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Conservation by observation – monitoring your local wildlife can help save it!

All Areas > Environment > Save the Planet

Author: Gillian Traverse, Posted: Thursday, 24th December 2015, 08:00

You may be able to guess what the giant panda, the golden mantella frog and the western lowland gorilla have in common. But what about the comma butterfly, the house sparrow and the humble hedgehog?

Animals on the former list are, perhaps, well known as iconic species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ‘Red List’ of animal populations facing declining numbers in the wild. The list establishes how wild animal populations are coping with the combined effects of habitat loss, climate change and human activity. However, animal and plant species closer to home may be struggling to survive those changes, too. The second set of animals will be known to many, but may also be in decline or under threat.

Managing impacts with wildlife in mind
So, how do we know what’s happening to the wildlife on our doorsteps? Wildlife surveys are one way to gauge how different species are coping with change, and the information provided can guide our response so that impacts are managed with wildlife in mind.

However, there simply aren’t enough professional ecologists out there to record in detail the amazing diversity of wildlife around us. In principle, the more data we collect, the more reliable the results will be, and trends will become more obvious. That’s where individuals and groups can make a huge difference.

The Big Garden Birdwatch recorded over 8.5m birds
In 2015, more than half a million people across Britain took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch and together they recorded more than 8.5 million birds. Scientists were able to analyse results and establish trends in populations across the UK, helping us to understand more about the decline of the house sparrow and work towards remedial action.

Since 1979, the survey has grown to become an annual event involving schools, community groups and individuals – and it’s really easy to take part! Choose a place to sit and watch for bird visitors to your garden (or local park) for just one hour over the weekend of 30th and 31st January 2016. Record the highest number of each type of bird seen at any one time (so you avoid counting the same bird more than once), and send your results to the RSPB via their website or post. Packs are available to help you prepare, too. Simple!

Using data gathered in this way, scientists have identified a 53% drop in greenfinch numbers since 1979 – a change probably resulting from trichomonosis. This disease can be contracted at garden feeding stations, so it’s worth giving bird feeders and tables a regular clean and removing any uneaten food.

Become involved with monitoring surveys
Of course, it’s not just birds that need our help. Across the UK, and locally in Gloucestershire, there are many monitoring surveys with which to become involved. Contact Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust with your hedgehog sightings, the Open Air Laboratory (OPAL) for hedgerow ecology, The Woodland Trust with seasonal observations (phenology), or take part in a local BioBlitz event, butterfly count or amphibian survey.

The opportunities are endless and ‘citizen ecologists’ are making a truly valuable contribution to our scientific understanding of the animals and plants around us. Why not resolve to join them in 2016?

Gillian is a member of the Gloucestershire Environmental Education Partnership (GEEP), a group of organisations aiming to help educate people in the county about the environment. For more information see www.geep.org.uk.

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