The Big Garden Birdwatch is one of the biggest, and most widely publicised, annual events in the RSPB calendar. Taking place across the last weekend in January, the event encourages people across the country to set aside an hour of their time to record the birds and wildlife that they see in their garden.

It all began in 1979, as a simple winter activity for the junior membership of the RSPB, which massively increased in scale once it received a mention on Blue Peter. Adults were invited to participate in 2001, and the event has now grown to the point where over over half a million people take part every year.

However, it is not only a hugely successful way of engaging people with the natural world. By participating in the Birdwatch you are also providing the RSPB with valuable information on the state of the UK’s garden bird population, which in turn can help conservationists to identify ways of helping those species in decline and see what conservation measures have been successful. For example, previous birdwatches have not only shown that over 75% of starlings have been lost, but also that blue tit numbers have increased by 20%.

Results from the Big Garden Birdwatch have shown a sharp fall in starling numbers - Image by Ben Andrew 

I have been actively participating in the Big Garden Birdwatch for several years now, and have always found it a wonderful way of making time for birdwatching among the demands of a hectic life. Each year I have discovered new wildlife in my garden that I was previously unaware of – nothing stunningly exotic, but still a surprise. Without the Birdwatch, there was no way that I would have noticed the flock of long-tailed tits (one of my favourite birds) in the flowerbed outside the living room window. I also have one nuthatch who makes a habit of conveniently appearing and remaining for far longer than usual every year during the Birdwatch. Watching it climbing down a tree just metres from my house was one of last year’s highlights. I have no idea whether it is the same bird each year or a completely different one, but its reappearance shows me just how much wildlife there is that I can enjoy without having to travel far.

Phoenix forum members birdwatching in  2014 - Image by Will Slater

You don’t need a large garden to be able to see wildlife on your doorstep, but if you’re worried about having nothing to see, try putting out some bird seed or suet beforehand to give the birds a reason to visit.

This year, the Big Garden Birdwatch will take place from the 28-30 January. By taking an hour of your time to complete it, you are not only helping the RSPB with valuable conservation work but also hopefully having some fun as well! Why not gather your friends and family together to take part and make an occasion out of it? After all, the more eyes the better! Simply find a comfortable spot and count the highest number of birds that you see at any one time.

For more information on how to take part and to submit your results, visit the RSPB website