A prickle of hedgehogs and a scurry of squirrels among garden wildlife secrets

The dawn chorus.

The dawn chorus.

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RSPB Northern Ireland is encouraging people in County Antrim to get out and uncover the secrets of their outdoor spaces, after the second year of the charity’s Big Garden Birdwatch highlighted the importance of gardens to threatened wildlife.

More than 585,000 people across the UK, including 7,600 in County Antrim, took part in the annual survey during the weekend of 24 and 25 January and also provided information about other wildlife which they spot during the year.

Amy Colvin from RSPB NI said: “Once again the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch survey has highlighted how important our gardens are for an amazing variety of wildlife living there. A lot of garden wildlife is in desperate need of our help. By providing shelter and a safe place to make a home, gardens provide an invaluable resource and are a key element in helping to save nature, perhaps even playing a pivotal role in reversing some declines.

“In a few years’ time we’ll be able to show any changes in the distribution of garden wildlife using this fantastic citizen science dataset. By bringing people closer to nature and learning new ways we can all give nature a home, we’ll see improvements rather than declines.”

In County Antrim grey squirrels were the most widely-spotted non-bird visitor, with 55 per cent of participants seeing one scurrying across their garden or climbing up a tree at least once a month.

At the other end of the scale, the grey’s native relative, the red squirrel, continued to struggle and was one of the least-seen species – with just two per cent of people here seeing one on a monthly basis.

The red squirrel is under threat by loss and fragmentation of woodland habitat, and a lethal virus carried by the grey, and has been lost from large parts of the UK.

Despite remaining a popular garden visitor, hedgehogs have continued their steady and widespread UK decline. Around 50 per cent of people set eyes on the spiny species throughout the year in County Antrim but it’s thought there are less than a million left in the UK, compared to more than 30 million in the 1950s.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, badgers were spotted by twice as many people living in rural areas than those living in suburban or urban areas in Northern Ireland, and in County Antrim 29 per cent of people reported they had seen one at some point during the last year.

Ms Colvin added: “This is the second year that we have asked local wildlife lovers to record some of the mammals and amphibians that they see in their gardens and we hope these results will encourage people to go out and explore their garden or outdoor space to uncover the wonderful wildlife that is living there.”

To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit: rspb.org.uk/homes