Children take part in world’s biggest in-school wildlife survey

Big Schools Birdwatch
Big Schools Birdwatch

School children across West Sussex are being offered the opportunity to turn into conservation scientists and take part in the world’s biggest schools’ wildlife survey.

Launched in 2002, the Big Schools’ Birdwatch is run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the country’s largest nature conservation charity.

Since then, the Birdwatch has seen thousands of children from Chichester, Bognor Regis, Midhurst and Petworth watch and count the birds which visit their outdoor spaces in the winter months, before sending the results to the RSPB.

This year, they are also being encouraged to fill up bird feeders, turn classrooms into bird hides and create wildlife-friendly bakes in preparation.

The 2019 Birdwatch can be run by teachers on any day during the first half of the spring term, but comes to a close on February 22.

According to the RSPB, the intention is to provide a chance for our children to put down their books and discover the nature that lives in their local community.

Teachers have the flexibility to run their school’s Birdwatch as a one-off event or as the centre piece of a cross-curricular study, project work or a way for the children in their class to improve their outdoor space.

An RSPB spokesperson said many schools prepare for the event in advance by taking measures to give nature a home in their school grounds.

She said: “Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a simple bird survey for pupils to take part in and enjoy together. This activity is about counting the number of birds in your school grounds.

“Seeing and counting the birds coming to their feeders during the Big Schools Birdwatch is the perfect reward for their efforts.”

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch is the school version of the Big Garden Birdwatch, the world’s biggest garden wildlife survey.

This year, it takes place on January 26, 27 and 28.

It is also part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign, which aims to tackle the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife by inviting people to provide a place for wildlife in their gardens, outside spaces and school grounds.

Schools interested in taking part in the Birdwatch and helping the next generation of children start their own wildlife adventure are invited to visit rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch to find out more.

Registration is open until February 7 and results should be submitted by February 22.

‘Fun, free and flexible’

Close to a million school children have taken part in the Big Schools’ Birdwatch, the world’s biggest survey of wild birds, since its launch 17 years ago.

According to the RSPB, these numbers show just how important it is for children to get outside to learn and make their first discoveries in nature.

An RSPB spokesperson said a 2017 survey of teachers and school children showed an overwhelming majority want to encounter nature in the classroom.

Involving 200 teachers and 1,200 school children from around the UK, the survey revealed 96 per cent of teachers believe it is important for children to experience nature at school - with the agreement of 77 per cent of pupils.

Last year, 60,000 children and teachers took part in counting more than 100,000 birds, ranging from black-headed bulls to wrens, song thrushes and collared doves.

For the tenth successive year, the blackbird was the most common playground visitor, with 88 per cent of schools spotting one during their watch.

Robins, house sparrows and woodpigeons all featured prominently in the results although, with over 70 difference species recorded, an RSPB spokesperson said she was sure there would a few surprises in schools around the country.

Only a few days into this year’s Birdwatch, birds spotted so far in our schools include bullfinches, pied wagtails and rooks, among others.

RSPB education manager Suzanne Welch said the project has a number of benefits.

Suzanne said: “Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a fun educational activity and is free to every school in the UK.

“It’s flexible enough to fit into a lesson or during lunchtime and links well to the curriculum or project work and works for all ages and abilities. It also gives children an opportunity to get outside, experience and learn about wildlife local to them.

“Sadly, children are spending less time outside in nature, meaning they are missing out on the positive impact nature has on their education, physical health and emotional wellbeing.

“The Birdwatch is the perfect chance to experience nature first hand, make exciting discoveries and provide valuable information on how our school birds are faring.”