Big Garden Bird Watch 2024

The benefits of hobbies that help us to slow down, and what this could mean for tackling the nature crisis

5 min read
A child resting on a windowsill and using a pen to fill in a Big Garden Birdwatch activity sheet.

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive, The RSPB:

Nature has been my guiding compass in my life in various guises. The times where I’ve been out of touch with the natural world have been the most challenging. 

Some twenty or so years ago I suddenly looked out of a window while on a train journey for my work as a management consultant. I realised that Winter had turned to Spring without me noticing. I hadn’t seen the hawthorn breaking out its white stars or heard the increasing volume and depth of the dawn chorus. One of life’s biggest joys for all had simply passed me by. As someone who grew up with nature close to her heart, it made me want to weep for what I was now so distant from. I changed my job, and the rest is history. 

Listening to a performance of simple folk songs recently, sung live and reaching back through the years, I reflected again on this idea of slowing down, and how I’ve sought hobbies that help me to do so – cooking, gardening, walking. And I’m not the only one. Research shows vinyl sales are also on the up – a slower, more intentional way to listen to music. Doing so enables us to be a little more present in the moment, but the truth is, it’s not always easy to seek out the things that ground us.  But nature always does it.  

Increasing evidence shows that nature really does have the power to boost our health, happiness and wellbeing. That’s why we launched our first ever RSPB Nature Prescriptions project in Scotland, working with GPs to enable people to truly connect with and notice nature through a guided conversation and seasonal activities. Evidence collected as a part of the Edinburgh study resulted in over 74% of patients saying they benefitted from their prescription and 87% of people said that they would continue to use nature to support their health and wellbeing. So successful that we have now expanded into England, working with a variety of healthcare professionals. 

Three children sat on a wooden bench outside of their school.

Likewise, the dark days of January guides the timing of our Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. Every year, hundreds of thousands of nature lovers take part in their gardens, balconies, school playgrounds and local green spaces across the country.  And get an hour of reconnecting with something profound – the wildness just outside our windows. 

With birds now facing so many challenges due to the nature and climate emergencies, every count matters. By taking part, individuals are not only practicing their own mindfulness, but they are also part of something much bigger. It provides us with an invaluable snapshot of the health of some of the UK’s most common bird populations. Bird declines since the survey began are startling. House Sparrow sightings have declined by 60% since our Bird Watch began in 1979. 

A House Sparrow drinking water with droplets falling from their beak.

We look to our leaders to come together at events like the climate COP28 and the forthcoming biodiversity COP16 to make change, but we should not overlook the role we play as citizens. What is more powerful than thousands of people noticing what is present and what is missing from their locality? And perhaps deciding to act to stem that loss. Only by witnessing change and acknowledging what we may take for granted can we truly understand the moment we are in and what needs to be done, now, together.   

I believe citizen science to be a huge part of how we can tackle the dual nature and climate crises. Last year, the People’s Plan for Nature showed us the power of participation when ordinary citizens from all walks of life came together to review the evidence and create a set of policy recommendations for nature’s recovery that is too big to ignore. 

So, will you join the count this weekend (26-28th January)? Everyone can take part, wherever you are. You don’t need binoculars, camouflage or existing knowledge of wildlife. Join in. Let’s redefine what it is to be a bird watcher, there are no boundaries. This is for everyone, with everyone.  

Whether you look out of your window with your mid-morning coffee, or step out on your lunchbreak, or plan a weekend in the wilderness, take note. You’ll find nature to be full of wonder, and may also discover a few other benefits along the way.  

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