If you want to help nature this year, one valuable thing you can do is take part in a nature survey.
Nature surveys are an important part of what is known as ‘citizen science’, and encourage members of the public to contribute to scientific research – often by collecting data about a particular species.
These surveys help conservation organisations understand more about how animals and plants are coping with challenges such as extreme weather and habitat loss – and survey results lead to informed actions to protect struggling species.
Citizen science surveys are also an excellent way for people to connect with nature and learn more about the plants and animals they’re observing.
There are plenty of surveys you can get involved with throughout the year, but the first date you should mark in your diary is the last Friday in January – this is when the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2024 begins.
Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, and last year more than half a million people took part.
The survey collects vital data that helps the RSPB gain insights into how garden birds are faring. Past surveys have highlighted many of the challenges facing our feathered friends, from climate change to disease.
Greenfinches and chaffinches, for example, are particularly susceptible to a disease called Trichomonosis. It can be spread by contaminated food and drinking water, and has caused some bird populations to crash in recent years. Cleaning bird feeders regularly and offering fresh water will help to stop the spread of this deadly disease.
It’s easy to take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch. Just spend an hour at any time during the weekend of 26th to 28th January watching the birds in your garden, park or local green space – and make a note of all the different species you see.
You can download a free identification sheet from the RSPB website, and submit results online or by post. Even if you don’t see many birds, or none at all, you should contribute – all submissions will help to build up a detailed picture of garden birds across the UK.
For more information, and to sign up, visit www.rspb.org.uk.
Frogs and toads
If you enjoy the Big Garden Birdwatch and want to help nature by getting involved with other surveys, put these citizen science surveys in your diary for the coming year!
The PondNet Spawn Survey, run by Freshwater Habitats Trust, maps sightings of frog and toad spawn across the country.
Frogspawn usually appears in ponds, ditches and puddles in February – but it can appear as early as December. So look out for spawn any time between December and May, and send in the details of any sightings.
This data helps Freshwater Habitats Trust to better understand the breeding habits of amphibians. Submit your sightings at www.freshwaterhabitats.org.uk, and share your spawn sightings on social media, using the hashtag #SpawnSurvey.
Butterflies and bees
Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 12 July until Sunday 4 August 2024. This Butterfly Conservation survey is easy to take part in – and what could be nicer than spending some time observing some of the UK’s most beautiful insects?
Just spend 15 minutes looking out for butterflies or moths – this could be in a garden, park, woodland or field. Record the species you see then submit your results.
In 2023, the red admiral was the most commonly seen butterfly during the survey. Also look out for peacocks, tortoiseshells, commas and painted ladies. And if you can, choose a sunny day to do your Big Butterfly Count, as butterflies are more likely to be seen during dry, bright weather – although, as with most citizen science surveys, all results are valuable, even if you don’t see anything at all.
To find out more and download a free identification guide, visit www.bigbutter flycount.butterfly-conservation.org.
BeeWalk is the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s national recording scheme to monitor the abundance of bumblebees across the UK.
To take part, you will need to commit to about an hour a month from March to October – but if you enjoy walking in the countryside, this shouldn’t be too hard!
Choose a route that’s about 2km long and look out for bumblebees as you walk. Submit your sightings to the BeeWalk website at www.beewalk.org.uk. You need to complete the same route each month, so make sure it’s a walk you enjoy!
It might be a good idea to take photos of any bumblebees you see. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust website has some excellent identification tools to help you recognise the different species – you’ll need to know your white-tailed bumblebee from your bilberry bumblebee before you submit your sightings.
Adders and trees
There are three different snake species in the UK: grass snakes, smooth snakes and adders.
Adders live in grasslands, woodland, heaths and moors. In the Peak District, the largest population is in the Eastern Moors.
Adders are recognisable by their grey or reddish-brown colouring, distinctive dark zig-zag stripe and red eyes. If you’re lucky enough to spot one while out for a walk – it’s a secretive creature that tends to stay hidden and has highly effective camouflage – Amphibian & Reptile Conservation would like to hear about it. Any data collected helps improve understanding about this fascinating but elusive reptile. Report sightings at www. recordpool.org.uk.
Adders are a protected species in the UK, and it’s illegal to harm them. They’re also the UK’s only venomous snake – and for both these reasons you should avoid disturbing or touching them.
The Ancient Tree Hunt is a project that’s helping to create a nationwide record – the Ancient Tree Inventory – of our oldest trees. These are an important part of our heritage – and provide a fantastic habitat for all sorts of wildlife.
Ancient trees can include oak, beech, Scots pine, rowan, birch, hawthorn, and ash – and are usually recognisable by the wide girth around the tree’s trunk. If you think you’ve seen one, take a photo and make a note of the tree’s location, then submit your sighting. The Ancient Tree Inventory includes a map of ancient tree locations across the UK, and can also be used to look up ancient trees in your local area.
Sightings can be submitted all year at www.woodlandtrust. org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/ancient-tree-inventory.