Watching birds and listening to birdsong have helped people during the pandemic, polling suggests in the run-up to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.
The wildlife charity is expecting high levels of participation in its annual survey of garden birds this weekend, which has been running for 42 years, and is encouraging people to take part to help “lift spirits” in the latest lockdown.
A survey for the RSPB by YouGov ahead of the Big Garden Birdwatch reveals that nearly two thirds of those polled (63%) felt watching birds and hearing their song added to their enjoyment of life, especially in the last 12 months.
More than half (51%) of the 2,071 adults quizzed said the coronavirus pandemic had made them more aware of the nature around them, and two fifths (41%) said they had spotted wildlife in their local area they had not noticed before.
More than a third of people (36%) in the poll said they had learned something new about the wildlife in their local area since the pandemic began, and more than half (53%) have been feeding garden birds in the last 12 months.
Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: “Lockdowns have brought few benefits, but the last year has either started or reignited a love of nature for many people.
“Nature is soul-food to us humans. The results of this survey indicate we may emerge from this pandemic a new generation of nature lovers.
“We know the bleak winter weather has made lockdown restrictions feel unbearable for many.
“But we hope the Birdwatch will help lift spirits and remind people nature is an incredible, reassuring constant when everything else has been disrupted. Nature will get us through.”
The RSPB has already seen record-breaking interest in pre-registration for the annual survey, taking place on January 29-31, which it says helps build an annual snapshot of how the UK’s birdlife is faring.
And the charity said the birdwatch – which nearly half a million people took part in last year – was a perfect lockdown activity as anyone could get involved without any special equipment.
The public is asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or balcony, counting only the birds that land, not those flying over, and recording the highest number of each bird species seen at any one time.
For those without gardens, and in keeping with the “virtual” life many people have experienced since the pandemic began, the RSPB is also inviting people to join the charity for a weekend of action online.
Events include Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin live from their garden in the New Forest, Notes On Nature Live with Deborah Meaden, Simon Mayo, Mike Dilger and Brigit Strawbridge Howard, and Big Garden Birdwatch Quiz on Facebook hosted by RSPB president Miranda Krestovnikoff and Dr Amir Khan.
The Big Garden Birdwatch is an important tool for monitoring the fortunes of common garden birds, with house sparrows and starlings occupying the number one and two spots in 2020, but with data over the past four decades showing declines in both species. Blue tits were third in 2020.
Two more garden favourites, blackbirds and robins, have also seen significant declines since the survey began in 1979, the RSPB said.