2019 will be our 6th Big Garden Birdwatch going beyond the birds to ask about the other wildlife you’ve seen over the past year. RSPB Scotland’s Allie McGregor takes a look at why we survey other wildlife, and which species might be showing up in your garden.

Big Garden Birdwatch: Beyond the birds

It’s not just birds that face threats to their numbers, so in 2014 we began surveying other wildlife as part of Big Garden Birdwatch to help us get a more complete picture of the state of wildlife and how it changes over the years. Thousands of gardens are surveyed allowing us to build a big picture of what’s going on with wildlife, and even being able to break it down into countries, regions, and counties.

This year you will find 15 species on your survey form: Badger, fox, frog, grass snake, muntjac, great crested newt, grey squirrel, hedgehog, mole, red squirrel, roe deer, slow worm, stag beetle, stoat, and toad. For the most part these species are widespread across the UK and found in varied habitats, making them some of the UK species you will have been more likely to see throughout the year. Two of these, grass snake and stag beetle, are not known in Scotland so we’re not expecting to see those in your results!

You might be surprised at some of the species on the list, as you might not be expecting invasive species, such as the grey squirrel, to be included. However, it is important to monitor invasive species as they will likely have an impact on native species. If we can monitor where they occur and how many it can help us identify areas where problems could arise.

Our 2018 results found foxes, hedgehogs, grey squirrels, and frogs were some of the most commonly seen species by Big Garden Birdwatchers in Scotland over the previous year. The UK population of hedgehogs has suffered declines in recent decades, but there was a small increase in the number of recorded sightings in Scotland in 2018. Hedgehogs are pretty sleepy during the day so if you're the early to bed, late to rise, type it might not be a species you've spotted this year.

Scotland’s reputation as a stronghold for red squirrels was emphasised in last year’s results, with 37% of those surveyed having seen one in the last year, while nationally the figure was 6%. There are a number of ways to differentiate grey squirrels and red squirrels. The first thing to look at is their fur colour - the clue is in the name! However fur colours can vary across the year so if you still aren't sure some features to keep an eye on are size, ears, and the tail. Red squirrels are smaller, have ear tufts throughout most of the year, and the hair on their tail will all be one colour (grey squirrels tails will be fringed with white colouring).

Unfortunately, some of the species we surveyed in 2018 had some decreases in the number of sightings. Regular sightings of frogs had fallen since they were surveyed in 2014, and records of toads were seen in our outdoor spaces regularly was down from four years ago.

Frogs and toads can be particularly difficult to tell apart - there are several things you can look out for to help you out. Habitat is one clue as frogs won't stray too far from water as they lose moisture more easily than toads. This is also related to their rather slimy appearance which acts as another hint! If you're looking at the features of the mysterious amphibian the face or legs can be your go-to guide. The legs of frogs are usually longer, and allow frogs to leap further. The face of a frog is usually more pointed than that of a toad, who will have a wider face and a rounder body to match. 

Some species on our survey, great crested newts and muntjac deer, have very limited distribution in Scotland and so low records are to be expected.

Sharing all your species spots from your garden over the last year helps us learn more about how their numbers and distribution might be shifting across years. Just as we do with our birds, when we publish our results it can help bring awareness to what species might need your help, and which ones you have a good chance of spotting in your garden.

Big Garden Birdwatch helps inspire thousands to do their bit for nature – all nature!

Register to take part this year at rspb.org.uk/birdwatch

  • Of the species listed, I've only seen hedgehogs in the past, but I live in an estate on the outskirts of the city of Aberdeen. I don't expect to see or smell hedgehogs again due to the general decline of biodiversity I've seen in my lifetime, but if we can reverse the decline these and perhaps more of those listed might appear in the future. Let us all hope that in 2019 we can start to see a general willingness to fight for nature.