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Giving a boost to 40 years of garden birdwatching

Anna Scrivenger , , , 31 January 2019

In the midst of a busy weekend, I found welcome respite in sitting quietly at my kitchen window with a mug of tea, gazing intently out at my rather windswept garden.

It was all very mindful. But it also served a much higher purpose. I was counting all the birds I saw, as my small contribution to the RSPB’s conservation science.

For the past 40 years, the last weekend of January has been RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch time. Originally aimed at children (in partnership with BBC’s Blue Peter), nature-loving grown-ups soon wanted in, and over the ensuing decades the national survey has grown into the world’s biggest garden wildlife survey. Last year, over 6.5 million birds were counted, by around half a million UK households.

In a nutshell, the Big Garden Birdwatch involves spending one hour looking out at your garden and keeping a tally of all the birds you see – avoiding duplication, of course. You then send your count for each species to the RSPB, who use this data to build a picture of how garden birds are faring.

From this, we know that song thrushes have declined by 70% over that time, greenfinches are starting to bounce back, while goldfinches are doing quite well. This knowledge helps support the RSPB’s conservation work – finding out why and how best to help species in peril.

Engaging members in the campaign

For the past five years now, we’ve been working alongside the charity to support the campaign, both via the RSPB members’ magazines and via the Nature’s Home blog.

Our team is closely involved in the RSPB’s work – turning our shared goals (helping nature) into inspiring and rewarding content for people who care about wildlife.

A feature in the RSPB’s Natures Home magazine promoting the Big Garden Birdwatch with a fresh angle: migrant birds

A more dynamic treatment of the same subject in Wild Explorer, the magazine for younger supporters

As RSPB members, most of our magazine readers are pretty au fait with the Big Garden Birdwatch, so our editorial treatments brush into the subject from different angles, from calendar dates to an ‘exposé’ on the secret everyday migrant birds hiding in your garden’, through to children’s content.

But digital audiences can come from anywhere. For its 40th anniversary, the RSPB introduced the How do you #BigGardenBirdwatch? social media campaign, to broaden its audience beyond the active nature enthusiasts and connect people with broadly related interests, such as families, gardeners, crafters, collectors and photographers.

Hub content for every audience

We’re supporting this campaign with a program of blog posts, built around Your Guide to the Big Garden Birdwatch as a hub on the Nature’s Home blog. This content sails forth aboard a raft of e-newsletters, web pages and social media, so must engage with whoever it meets along the way – from Googlers to goldfinch-lovers.

Our posts tackled all the important questions in the countdown to the event:

Internal links help keep the Birdwatch ‘inside the garden fence’, improving dwell times across RSPB pages, and leading readers through its extensive Big Garden Birdwatch resources to maximise engagement with the event. Each post also links back to others, boosting blog hits and visibility.

Awaiting the data

Although the 2019 Birdwatch is now over (and this week marks our last BGBW-40 post), the public’s data is still coming in, and in a few months we’ll be posting about the key findings.

Among the figures will be the feathered faces who kept me enthralled for that peaceful hour at the weekend. From the comfort of my dining room I spotted 14 different bird species around my feeders; more starlings, dunnocks and robins than usual, but fewer goldfinches and long-tailed tits.

The RSPB will analyse all of this and retain my modest figures as part of something much bigger – a multi-decade project that tracks the story of Britain’s suburban wildlife. We are proud to be a part of it.

Main illustration by Chris Shields for RSPB’s Nature’s Home magazine.

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