Birdwatchers asked to count badgers, frogs and toads

Badger in a garden

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Participants in the RSPB's annual bird survey are being asked to count other animal visitors to their garden too.

For the first time in its 35-year history the Big Garden Birdwatch is also recording mammals and amphibians.

The charity expects half a million people to take part in the survey, based on previous years, making it the world's largest wildlife count.

Conservationists hope the additional data will help boost studies of the UK's garden species.

The bird charity has partnered with others in the past on the Make Your Nature Count summer surveys, which ran between 2009 and 2012.

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The counts attracted tens of thousands of recordings each year but the charity has set its sights even higher, with one survey encompassing both British birds and other common garden visitors: deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

It will share this data with the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.

According to Richard Bashford, Big Garden Birdwatch organiser, the collaboration was agreed following the 2013 State of Nature report - which brought together studies by 25 of the UK's leading conservation organisations, giving a stark overview of the nation's wildlife.

"One thing we did last year with the State of Nature report is formalise this [relationship] - to all publish things together, all speak with one voice," he said.

"Essentially we're helping each other out, the more people that speak with the same voice and talk about the same thing the stronger the message."

The report revealed that 60% of the species included were in decline, including once familiar garden visitors, such as the hedgehog.

2013's biggest concerns

Starling on a branch

Species:

Drop since 2012:

Starlings

-16%

House sparrows

-17%

Bullfinches

-20%

Dunnocks

-13%

The 2013 Big Garden Birdwatch survey results mirrored this pattern, with starling numbers sinking to an all time low and declines reported for house sparrows, bullfinches and dunnocks compared to the previous year.

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, suggested the results this year could be affected by the mild winter conditions.

"Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens."

"Birds come into gardens for food when they can't find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down," he said.

"We will be able to compare results to other mild winter years and compare regional trends, so if you don't see many birds, we still need to know, it's really useful information."

Those taking part in the survey will be asked to spend an hour noting down the birds in their garden - and to report if they have ever seen any of the other animals in their green space.

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place over the weekend of 25 - 26 January and you can take part on its website.

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