Tim Webb – The Big Garden Birdwatch in Havering and Thurrock

My name is Tim, and I am one of three Communication Officers in the RSPB’s South Eastern Region – which includes Rainham Marshes.

I support staff on our projects, reserves and in our offices to help share the many stories we have about our work and the remarkable wildlife which surrounds and often sustains us. Whether it’s extolling the virtues of sustainable urban drainage; discovering silver studded blue butterflies on our heathlands or boosting breeding numbers of sparrows, little terns and lapwings, I’ll be writing, tweeting or sharing imagery of it all.

So I wanted to write something about the Big Garden Birdwatch results in Havering and Thurrock, and how that compares to the overall score, in the areas that surround Rainham Marshes nature reserve.

Havering’s Top Ten garden birds have remained largely unchanged over the past three years with only collared doves showing any significant decrease; down 16% compared with 2014. The Big Garden Birdwatch is conducted every January and gives a snapshot of the number and types of birds seen in Havering’s gardens. Changes in bird populations reflect changes in our environment and while annual fluctuations can be expected, long term change either up or down, can be cause for alarm. The latest figures suggest all is well with our outdoor spaces and that the alarming decline of house sparrows recorded over the last couple of decades may well be levelling off.

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House Sparrow by Ray Kennedy

In Thurrock, the picture is very similar, but it is a stronghold for starlings, has more house sparrows, and goldfinches have pushed feral pigeons out of the top ten table.

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Starling by Andy Hay

The Big Garden Birdwatch started out as an activity for children to enjoy nature, but it soon became apparent the results provided a rare insight in to previously inaccessible spaces; private gardens.

Recording bird populations on nature reserves is easy as they are contained spaces with easy access for surveyors. Habitats are managed to maximise breeding success for the species they support, whereas private gardens are all different, closed to surveyors and yet make up a huge area of land when counted together, especially in urban settings.

At Rainham, water levels, plants, muddy patches, nesting areas and food availability are all carefully controlled to boost the number of birds which rely on freshwater marshland. This approach has paid dividends with numbers of threatened lapwing for example increasing year on year.

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Lapwing by Andy Hay

It would be unusual but not unheard of to see the marsh harriers, lapwing, egrets and other wildlife which thrives at Rainham living in private gardens, but when it comes to nature, expect the unexpected and always enjoy and respect it.

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Little Egret by Paul Chesterfield

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