Big Garden Birdwatch: help the Grounds team’s work for wildlife

In this post, Martin Ammann, new gardener in the Estates Management & Development team, invites students and staff to get involved with a citizen science project to help monitor and boost biodiversity on campus. Join the team this Thursday 26th January, 1:30-2:30, on the Haxby Road campus – sign up here

New interests don’t always come at the right time.

Often, we’re not in the right head space to be receptive when we first come across them. What seemed boring to us as children will become an ultimate obsession later on. Vice versa, we might fall out of love with a thing that we used to do all day long.

So it was for me and birds. When you’re a child, you can’t get enough of animals, especially the small and cute kind. Being lucky enough to grow up where nature is accessible, it was easy to turn into a little citizen scientist, observing and asking yourself the same kinds of questions naturalists have asked for centuries.

If you, as a researcher, can channel that curiosity, you’ll end up with a win-win situation:

Citizen science is cheap, can produce and process enormous amounts of data and can cover vast geographical distances. So, a win-win-win situation, really.

There are drawbacks, of course. Datasets produced by a class of primary school pupils will not be as rigorous as those by a university research team. However, this is often made up by following good practice and the sheer amount of data produced.

Also, from a science communication perspective, how great is it to involve ordinary people in Chinese cuckoo migration research and have them name a GPS-tagged female Flappy McFlapperson ?

As I got older and moved around, first to the city and then a different country, I forgot about my inner child’s fascination with robins, tits and woodpeckers. Watching birds became the domain of old men.

It wasn’t until I became aware of the climate and ecological emergency that my mind turned backwards. Global decline of bird populations as a direct result of human activity is devastating. Half of the roughly 10.000 known species are in decline, the primary reason being habitat degradation.

The UK, unfortunately, is leading the G7  (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States) for most degraded ecosystems.

The 2019 State of Nature report by the National Biodiversity Network is is damning.


Tracking, assessing and reporting is essential to inform policy making, to halt and hopefully reverse this process.

That’s why I’m bringing the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) Big Garden Birdwatch to YSJ.

This annual citizen science activity is a fantastic way to connect and re-connect us with nature and is doing vital work for the scientific community.

Meet me and the grounds team on Thursday 26th of January, from 1.30pm to 2.30pm. Please sign up via Eventbrite .

If you can’t attend on the date, you can still participate from home over the weekend and send in your observations.

Don’t worry if you don’t know sparrows from a magpies, there are now some incredible AI-powered mobile apps to help you! Check out  Cornell Institute for Ornithology’s Merlin for visual IDs and Cornell/Chemnitz Institute of Technology’s BirdNET for neural network powered audio IDs.

If you’d like to learn more about birds in general but haven’t got the time to trawl through literature, I can recommend Ivan Phillipson’s light-hearted Science of Birds podcast.

A good way to help birds AND reduce food waste is to recycle kitchen waste into birdfood.