Friday, 30 March 2012

Gulls play the field in UK schools

A UK-wide survey of wildlife in schools has revealed that playing fields provide decent stomping grounds for some of UK gulls including the ‘red-listed’ herring gull.

40.4% of schools taking part in the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch reported seeing black headed gulls, 21.7% saw common gulls and 10.3% saw herring gulls.

Herring gull numbers reported in schools have been steadily increasing and this year reached the top 20 at no. 17. 

Open playing fields in schools can provide a rich area of feeding for birds, the short-cropped grass is ideal for birds to find natural food supplies.

Gulls are resourceful birds and forage for food by stamping their feet on the ground to bring invertebrates to the surface. 

As a species suffering serious decline within the UK, it is great that schools are providing a haven for herring gulls. (see note 1)

Almost 90,000 school children and teachers stepped up for nature by counting birds in this annual survey.  Nearly 3000 classes from over 2000 schools were involved across the UK in the last two weeks of January (see note 2).

Over 110,000 birds were counted in this year’s survey alone and since its launch in 2002, more than 70 different species have been recorded in school grounds, ranging from starlings and house sparrows to kestrels.

Top of the league table again in 2012 was the blackbird, which holds onto the top spot for the fourth year running.  85.6% of schools saw an average of 5.4 birds per school.  Blackbirds are also munchers of invertebrates including worms and grubs, which they can find more easily in milder winter conditions.  [See note 3 for full table of results]

This year, the starling just pipped the woodpigeon into second place, with both birds averaging sightings of 3.46 birds per school.

Faye Mackender, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch project manager, said; “The Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a brilliant way of getting young people interested in nature and excited about what they can see through the classroom window.

“It’s all too easy for them to miss those opportunities to get outside and understand the world around them.  Big Schools‘ Birdwatch gives children the chance to step up for nature”.

The benefits of contact with nature are now widely recognised as playing an important role in a child’s education and social development. Independent research has found that such activities can have a positive impact on children’s mental and physical health. [note 3]

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch can be integrated into many curriculum areas. Increasingly schools are making the activity the centrepiece of a whole week devoted to learning about wild birds. Some schools hold Birdwatch breakfasts or after school wildlife clubs, while others transform classrooms into bird hides.

Since its launch, the survey has grown in popularity and the RSPB has also introduced the Little Schools’ Birdwatch, especially designed for 5’s and under and the Really Big Schools’ Birdwatch for 11-14 year olds.

Sarah Butcher, Class Teacher and head of KS2, St. Andrew's Primary School, Cullompton, Devon said of her class; "Taking part in the Big School's Bird Watch has become an annual event in my class. We feed the birds all year round with a feeding station right outside the classroom window, so by the time of the birdwatch the children are experts at identifying the birds that we get around the school grounds.

“This year's Big Schools Birdwatch was the best yet: we had a record number of species but also an amazing amount of enthusiasm amongst the pupils! It was an icy cold day, but the children turned up with coats, hats, scarves and gloves and even binoculars, ready to see what we could find. Once the birdwatch was over we used the results for making graphs in maths, making an information book about the birds we found and presented an assembly to spread the good news! I've already had requests to do it again next year.”.

For the full UK-wide Big Schools’ Birdwatch results visit:

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