RSPB survey reveals wildlife use of North East gardens

RSPB project enlisted thousands ofobservers in region to record sightings of birds and animals in their own gardens

A red squirrel, with a nut in it's mouth at Kielder Forest
A red squirrel, with a nut in it's mouth at Kielder Forest

How wildlife uses gardens in the North East has been revealed by thousands of observers in the region.

As part of the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch exercise, participants were asked to also record what wildlife they saw on a monthly basis in their plots and what they had spotted at any time in the past.

The findings reflect trends such as the dominance of the grey squirrel, especially south of the Tyne, and the retreat of the native red squirrel into Northumberland.

In Tees Valley where 4,500 took part in the Birdwatch, 59.78% saw greys in their garden monthly and 83.66% had observed them at any time. Reds had virtually vanished, being seen in under 1% of gardens.

In County Durham, where 4,000 participated, greys were seen in just over half of gardens monthly and in 77.65% at any time. Again, reds were just 0.71% monthly and 3.28% at any time.

PA Photo/thinkstockphotos A Grey Squirrel
A Grey Squirrel

In Tyne and Wear, where 5,700 joined in, greys were seen in 36.74% of gardens monthly and 60.17% had spotted them at some time. Reds were a rarity at 1.4% and 4.31%.

Even in Northumberland, with 4,400 taking part, greys were recorded monthly in 23.5% of gardens and 41.94% any time. Reds were spotted monthly by 12.28% and 36.57% any time.

The presence and gradual spread of another introduced species, the tiny Asian muntjac deer, also showed up.

It was seen most often in County Durham gardens, with 1.84% monthly and 3.26% any time, in Tees Valley 0.65% and 2.2%, Tyne and Wear 0.33% and 0.66% and Northumberland 0.98% and 2.28%

It was a different story with roe deer, with a third of Northumberland gardens reporting sightings at some time and 16.94% on a monthly basis.

County Durham sightings were 8.89% monthly and 19.10% any time, Tees Valley 4.49% and 12.98% and Tyne and Wear 3% and 6.75%.

Hedgehogs are the most frequently seen animal in gardens, appearing in a third of plots monthly in County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, and having been spotted at any time in more than 70% of locations in the three counties.

Dougie Holden One of the hedgehogs relesaed at Whitburn Coastal Park
One of the hedgehogs relesaed at Whitburn Coastal Park

This is despite the national population declining by an estimated 30% since 2003, with less than a million animals left in the UK.

Badgers also made occasional visits, turning up in 10% of gardens monthly in Northumberland, and in 4.3% in County Durham, 2.34% in Tees Valley and 1.09% in Tyne and Wear.

Slow worms, which are legless lizards, were seen in 3.75% of Tyne Wear gardens monthly,2.46% in Northumberland, 2.66% in County Durham and 2.7% in Tees Valley. Grass snakes were even rarer.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “As gardens have become tidier, reptile homes have been lost, leaving a shortage of suitable habitats in which to live and breed.

“Piles of logs, compost heaps and ponds provide ideal warm, sheltered environments for these species to breed, find food and to hibernate. “

Steve Lowe, head of conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “ The results tie in with the known distribution of grey and red squirrels, although greys, which are bolder, are more likely to be seen in gardens taking advantage of food for the birds.

“But reds are seen in gardens in places Like Ponteland.

The appearance of muntjac is a worrying trend. They are quite hard to see and are usually more active at night, so these results could be an under-representation of their potential distribution in the region. Roe deer, however, are widespread.

John Mallett Muntjac deer
Muntjac deer

“The number of hedgehog sightings is good news but factors like new road systems are a threat and we need to keep an eye on this species.

“For most people, gardens are the closest they get to wildlife, especially people with limited mobility, and the more we encourage wildlife to share our space the better.”

The RSPB explained why another occasional garden visitor, the fox, did not feature in the survey.

“For the Big Garden Birdwatch non-avian results, we swap two species out and two in every year - so this year we took out frog and toad for slow worms and grass snakes,” said a spokesperson.

“This is only the second year of asking people to tell us about their non-bird garden visitors, so foxes haven’t deliberately been left out, it’s just that they haven’t entered the rotation yet.”

Daniel said: “Once again the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey has highlighted how important our gardens are for a variety of wildlife.

“By providing shelter and a safe place to make a home, gardens provide an invaluable resource, perhaps even playing a pivotal role in reversing some declines.

“In a few years’ time we’ll be able to show any changes in the distribution of garden wildlife using this fantastic data.”

Marina Pacheco, chief executive of The Mammal Society, said: “These fantastic results show the importance of our gardens not only for birds but for the whole range of wildlife including our mammals.

“Records for mammals are particularly scarce and as we are currently collecting data for a national mammal atlas these records, plus any other people send in, are invaluable for informing future conservation.”

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