Call to join bird counting scheme

The Oxford Times: Goldfinches are among many birds common in UK gardens. Goldfinches are among many birds common in UK gardens.

More than half a million people are expected to take part in the annual RSPB bird counting scheme this weekend.

With many of the UK's garden birds in decline, the wildlife charity is calling for more people than ever to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch to record bird numbers in parks and gardens to help assess the state of UK wildlife.

Last year's scheme saw starlings hit an all-time low, while house sparrows dropped 17% in 2013 compared with 2012 figures, bullfinches were down a fifth and dunnocks fell 13% on the previous year.

Some 590,000 people took part, counting 8.2 million birds last year alone.

And for the first time this year, people are also being asked to tell the RSPB if they ever see some other wildlife in their gardens, including deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

The information on other wildlife will be shared with other conservation groups to help with their work, and will enable the RSPB give advice on how people can help creatures who visit their gardens to nest, breed and and feed successfully.

Miranda Krestovnikoff, RSPB President, said: "So many of us spend time giving our nature a home, whether that's feeding garden birds, putting up nestboxes or planting the right things.

"And this is the perfect opportunity to reap the benefits - it's so rewarding seeing creatures taking up your hospitality.

"The RSPB urgently needs as many people to take part as possible. The more people that get involved, the more we'll be able to understand which of our wildlife is most under threat and take action."

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: " The key thing for the RSPB is that, even when you feel you don't have as many birds in your garden compared to normal, we still desperately need your results.

"We will be able to compare results to other milder winter years and compare regional trends, so if you don't see many birds, we still need to know, it's really useful information."

To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, people just need to spend an hour birdwatching at any time over the weekend, recording the highest number of each bird species seen in their garden or outside space at any one time.

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