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RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch: how to join in, what birds to look out for, plus events at RSPB Dungeness

By Angela Cole

Lose yourself in nature this weekend while also doing your bit to help the country’s bird population.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch asks for one hour of people’s time a year to look at the bigger picture of the birds living in the UK – and this year its emphasis is on how that hour could also help you de-stress.

Sightings from previous years have helped identify the dramatic decline of house sparrows, leading to urgent studies to try to save the species.

A house sparrow Picture RSPB

A house sparrow Picture: RSPB

But it’s not all doom and gloom. “When was the last time you allowed yourself an hour to simply look at the nature around you?” said Tim Webb from the charity.

“In the South East we’re already seeing our birds respond to climate change and the Big Garden Birdwatch gives us insights into the private spaces our researchers can’t reach – so lose yourself in nature for 60 minutes.

“There is a deadly serious side to the survey but it’s great fun to do and always a delight to see the incredibly diverse range of creatures getting on with their lives under our noses, normally ignored or overlooked.”

How to create your own 'bird cafe'

A blue tit

A blue tit

Apart from it being an hour to savour connecting with nature, people taking part also get to be part of the world’s biggest citizen science project for the environment.

For the RSPB, the data gathered by people all over the country is like gold dust, providing a snapshot of the state of the UK’s garden birds county by county.

One focus this year includes seeing how resident British birds including greenfinch, chaffinch, blue tit, great tit and long-tailed tit are coping. Numbers of greenfinches have been impacted by trichomonosis and there have been less sightings of the tit species, thought to be linked to the prolonged wet weather in the 2016 breeding season.

But 2017 was drier – fuelling hopes that this year could bring bumper sightings.

Time to keep your eyes peeled...

Take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend

Take part in the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend

THE BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH

The RSPB – the largest nature conservation charity in the country – asks people to choose a convenient moment once a year to record the maximum number of each species of bird they see at any one time over an hour from their home, and then submit the results online or by post.

This year it is between Saturday, January 27 to Monday, January 29.

No expert knowledge or kit is needed, though free identification sheets and instructions are available from the charity’s webpage at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch 

If you’re taking part share your images using #BigGardenBirdwatch.

 

CLOSER TO HOME

It’s Britain’s only desert but it’s also a mecca for thousands of migrating birds from all over the world.

Dungeness Nature Reserve at Romney Marsh is 1,000 hectares of bird-friendly landscape.
Windswept it may be and covered largely by shingle, but the coastal haven sees birds flock to its shores – and birdwatchers in search of them.

Visitor experience officer Louise Kelly said: “We do have a lot of the common birds here like blue tits, robins and blackbirds, but we have a lot of the unusual birds such as wildfowl, like ducks and geese. We have waterbirds in the winter and breeding birds in the spring.

“It is just a fascinating place. It is so different to anywhere else I’ve ever been.”

Dungeness - Britain's only desert

Dungeness - Britain's only desert

Louise, 25, who has worked at the reserve for two and a half years, said: “We like to encourage new audiences, but we have regular visitors too. There are seven hides, which let people see the birds and them not see you, really up close.

“I think people largely don’t realise the decline in the birds population. But the data we get from the birdwatch means we get to see a really clear picture.”

There is a Big Garden Birdwatch event at the reserve on Sunday, January 28 between 11am and 1pm.

Dungeness Picture Craig Edwards

Dungeness Picture: Craig Edwards

Visitors can head out on a walk with a knowledgeable guide to learn about the birds you might see in your garden and at the reserve, and how to feed them.

Entry is £7 and £3.50 for children, with 20% off for RSPB members. You need to book by visiting rspb.org.uk/birdwatch or calling 01797 320588. Find Dungeness at Boulderwall Farm, Dungeness Road, Lydd, TN29 9PN.

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