Half of people in East Yorkshire who took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch see common frogs in their gardens on a regular basis but only a fraction ever see the endangered red squirrel, according to the second round of results from the world’s biggest wildlife survey, run by the RSPB.
This year, for the first time in the 36-year history of the survey, Big Garden Birdwatch participants were also asked to tell the RSPB about some of the other wildlife that visits their gardens throughout the year, including common frogs, red and grey squirrels, badgers and hedgehogs. This follows the release of the bird results by the charity at the end of last month.
Almost half a million people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and most of them supplied extra information on the other garden wildlife they see. The RSPB hopes to use it to build an overall picture of how important our gardens are for all types of wildlife and tailor its advice so people can help their wild visitors find a home, feed and breed successfully.
The RSPB’s partners, including Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and The Mammal Society, have been highly enthusiastic about including these data in their national datasets.
According to the national results, grey squirrels came out on top overall, with 72% of people seeing them in their gardens at least once a month. In East Yorkshire, more than half of participants see a grey squirrel in their gardens regularly.
At the other end of the scale, the grey’s native relative, the red squirrel, was one of the least-seen garden visitors, with 98% of participants in East Yorkshire reporting they never see one in their gardens.
The red squirrel, which is threatened by a lethal virus carried by the grey, has been lost from much of the UK.
In areas where the greys don’t carry the virus, the reds are still affected, essentially being out-competed by their rivals.
Less than half of participants in East Yorkshire saw hedgehogs in their gardens regularly. Hedgehog populations have seriously declined nationally by around 30% since the millennium.
When not hibernating, the common frog takes the lead as the most abundant garden amphibian, according to the results.
Approximately half of people in the UK see a common frog in their gardens at least monthly, regardless of whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban area. In East Yorkshire 50% of participants see a common frog in gardens regularly.
When it comes to toads, nationally 28% of people see them monthly, however in East Yorkshire, 22% of people report never seeing one in their gardens.
Last year, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the groundbreaking State of Nature report [note 4] revealing 60% of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades.
Many garden favourites were among the creatures shown to be in serious trouble including starlings and hedgehogs, as well as some butterflies and ladybirds. All are in danger of further declines unless more is done to provide better habitats.
Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, commented: “This massive survey shows how important our gardens are for the amazing variety of wildlife living there.
“The State of Nature report showed that we need more information across many species groups, so widening the Big Garden Birdwatch’s scope to include other animals made perfect sense.
“This is the start of something big and something very, very important. In a few years’ time we’ll be able to compare how the distribution of garden wildlife may have changed. Hopefully, the fact that more people are helping to give nature a home in their gardens and outside spaces will mean we see improvements rather than declines.”
Dr John Wilkinson, ARC Science Programme Manager, said: “It’s great to know that frogs and toads are still widespread in UK gardens, which are a crucial habitat for both of them, but worrying that toads are relatively so much less common than frogs, especially in England. Future results from Big Garden Birdwatch will be critical in helping to understand all the factors affecting all our wildlife, including amphibians.”
David Wembridge, mammal surveys coordinator for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, said: “Gardens can be ideal habitats for mammals but from the Big Garden Birdwatch and People’s Trust for Endangered Species’ (PTES) mammal surveys, we know that only a minority of gardens are regularly used by hedgehogs – one species we’re particularly concerned about.
With numbers falling in the wider countryside, doing more to encourage hedgehogs into the green spaces around our homes and places of work could make a big difference.”
Marina Pacheco, the Mammal Society’s Chief Executive, said: “Those taking part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch have captured one of the largest snapshots ever recorded for some of our most endearing and threatened mammals. It’s fantastic to know that gardens can be a vital refuge for rapidly-declining species like the red squirrel and hedgehog.
“As well as taking part in an enjoyable survey, participants have greatly increased our understanding of the distribution and relative abundance of UK mammals.”
Giving Nature a Home is the RSPB’s latest campaign, aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens and outside spaces – whether it by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow, or creating a pond that will support a number of different species.
The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature.
To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit rspb.org.uk/homes