The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch has been going on for 36 years. It was started in 1979 as an activity for children and it still has t...

Big Garden Birdwatch

The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch has been going on for 36 years. It was started in 1979 as an activity for children and it still has that same simple idea behind it today - to count birds.

With so many people taking part each year, it helps the RSPB get an idea about how the birds in the UK are doing. The more people that are able to join in and count, the bigger and wider the data that can be collected.

Last year over 8.5 millions birds were counted. The data has shown that we've lost around 58% of our house sparrows since the birdwatch was started. This information means that the RSPB can spend time looking at why this might have happened and what they need to do in order to put it right.

All you need to do to join in is visit, sign up and download a pack.
The pack contains a record sheet and a handy bird identifier.
Your birdwatch can take place either on Saturday 30th or Sunday 31st of January. Just spend one hour recording which birds visit your garden on one of those days and send the information back to the RSPB by Friday 19th of February.

So, what are you waiting for? Download a pack and join in with the Big Garden Birdwatch.

Coyote I've decided, to go a long with one of my goals for 2016 - to learn something new - I'd pick one animal to research each m...

Animal Of The Month: January

I've decided, to go a long with one of my goals for 2016 - to learn something new - I'd pick one animal to research each month. This month is a shout out to my days in Canada, the Coyote.

Photo by Edmonton Urban Coyote Project 
Scientific name: Canis lantrans
Mass: 6.8 - 21kg
Height: 58 - 66cm (at shoulder)
Speed: 40mph

Coyotes are known opportunists and survivalists. They have the ability to adapt from living in the prairies and desert land, to living in forests and mountain areas. Their diet consists of small mammals such as rabbits, mice, and squirrels. They have also been known to eat lizards, frogs, and snakes. Generally coyotes will eat almost anything depending on where they're living, from livestock on farms to pets and human rubbish in built up areas.

Generally when hunting large prey, coyotes work in a small group. Unlike the wolf, who approach their prey from the rear, coyotes approach their prey from the front lacerating the throat.
It's been known that when hunting porcupines coyotes sometimes work in pairs in order to flip the animal onto its back to get to its underbelly.

Photo by Eric Smith
A female in heat can attract up to 7 males by scent marking and howling. Once the female choses a partner the rejected males move on. Coyotes mate between late January and March, and some remain paired for many years. On average they have 6 pups in a litter. Coyotes can mate with domestic dogs, creating what is colloquially called a  'coydog', and occasionally grey wolves, to produce 'coywolves'.

Albinism is exceedingly rare, with only 2 out of 750,000 coyotes trapped by hunters between 1938 and 1945 being albino. However, there is a population of non-albino white coyotes found in Newfoundland. It's believed that a coyote mated with a Golden Retriever and a 'white' gene was passed down.

As far back as 1250-1300 AD it's been known that coyotes often from friendships with American badgers, as they help to assist each other in digging up rodent prey. Some coyotes have been seen licking the faces of their badger friends without objection.

Every Child Wild is an initiative started by the Wildlife Trusts in 2015 with the aim of helping put the 'wild' back into child...

Every Child Wild

Every Child Wild is an initiative started by the Wildlife Trusts in 2015 with the aim of helping put the 'wild' back into childhood. The Wildlife Trusts are particularly concerned with the lack of contact and connection between children and wildlife in modern society.

Every Child Wild believes that children should have the right to:
1. Explore the natural world near where they live.
2. Develop a personal connection with nature from an early age.
3. Live within a safe walking distance of a local green space.
4. Learn about our total reliance on nature at school.

A YouGov poll was commissioned which emphasized the conflict between what children experienced and what their parents believed was best for them - with 91% of parents believing that children having access to an environment with nature and wildlife was important, but 78% of parents being worried that children weren't spending enough time being involved with nature.

According to the YouGov poll, over 50% of children had never found frogspawn in the wild, and 60% had never seen a peacock butterfly. Without the connection to nature and wildlife, children may be less likely to care about what happens in the natural environment, meaning that over the generations people may be less likely to protect and look out for wildlife.
By not interacting with nature, children aren't just missing out on seeing wildlife first hand, there's a greater impact. Wild places help to teach children about rational decision making and how to deal with unfamiliar situations. They also teach children about risk taking and safety, like when climbing trees. Part of this is based on learning from experience, as well as testing their own abilities.
Exploring wild spaces also encourages exercise, in a society where children aged 11-15 years currently spend around 7.5 hours in front of a screen, and 28% of kids are overweight or obese. As well as the physical implications of being outdoors, there's also the mental and emotional impact to consider. It's thought that children are happier and more creative when they're interacting with nature, with studies suggesting that living within 1km of a green space can reduce the risk of anxiety and depression.  

But how can we help every child be wild?
We live in a world where people are worried about letting their children go out exploring alone. So we, as adults, need to take the time to help them find a safe way to interact with nature. My first port of call when looking for fun and creative ways to spend time outdoors is Pinterest. Here's just a couple of ideas that I found.

Nature Hunt
Whether it's a day trip to the beach, or half an hour in the garden, a nature hunt is a sure fire way to get the kids involved in nature, as well as exercising. Simply write a list of possible finds, and see what you and your little one can discover.

DIY Bug Hotel
This one's primarily aimed at people who have a garden, or a green space near by. The best thing about this is that you can make use of a rainy day and create the hotel indoors. All you need to do is spend some time outdoors collecting a few sticks, pine cones, leaves, and some wood. Don't forget to keep an eye out on what bugs are moving in.

Painting Nature
Take the kids to the park and get them to collect leaves of different shapes and sizes, twigs, acorns. Anything that you can dip into paint and use like a stamp to create a fun nature pattern.

Animal Yoga
Ask your child to think of an animal and get them to close their eyes and pose like the animal for as long as they can hold it. Animal Yoga helps children to refine their balance, develop concentration and focus, as well as helping them connect with wildlife.

For older children, or those that you simply can't part with technology, why not download an app called SkyView. All you have to do is go outside and point your device at the sky, it then tells you about the stars and constellations you're looking at.

To find a Wildlife Trusts nature reserve near you, click here.

I've never really been one for New Year's Resolutions mainly because they seem to be a bit forced, and are at a time when you hav...

Goals For 2016

I've never really been one for New Year's Resolutions mainly because they seem to be a bit forced, and are at a time when you have to do them, rather than wanting to do them. So instead I've given myself a list of goals I'd like to achieve and things I'd like to do. I've made sure that they're actually achievable, because there's nothing worse than setting yourself something unachievable and feeling like a failure when you can't do it.
So here are my goals for 2016.

1. Plant a tree(s)
I recently found out that scientists think that mankind has cut down around three trillion trees. I can't even begin to imagine that many trees. So in a bid to make a change (however small it may be) I want to plant a tree/trees. I'm lucky enough to live in an area where I can go out and plant one, but for those who aren't so lucky, or might not have a garden, there are plenty of other ways to get involved as well. There are a variety of groups where you can volunteer to help plant trees, such as Trees For Life. Or you can get involved by donating money to help plant trees with organisations like Woodland Trust.

2. Take more photos
I love taking photos, but I've noticed that if I'm out with other people I tend not to stop for as long as I'd like to take as many photos as I'd like. So to put it simply, this goal to be more selfish, not worry about holding others up, and take more photos.

3. Climb (hike) a mountain
The Three Peaks Challenge is definitely on my list of life goals, but I'm not sure if this is the year for it. I'd be happy with a hike up any mountain to get me started.

4. Go stargazing
I live near a dark-sky zone and yet I've very rarely gone outside and just looked up (I blame the clouds). But all this stops in 2016. I'm not really that interested in astronomy if I'm honest, but after I saw the Milky Way while camping in British Columbia I was awestruck. More of that please!

5. Go camping
Perhaps in keeping with stargazing, and hiking, I'd love to go camping more. I did a lot of 'backyard' camping as a kid, and a bit of camping (getting drunk in a field/forest) as a teenager and whilst in Canada, but now I think it's time to get serious. I feel like there's a certain stigma attached to camping in the UK - cold, wet, the tent will leak, generally just a terrible idea - but I'm sure with some proper preparation it can't be that bad.

6. Use my trail camera
I bought a trail camera in the Black Friday sales and so far while trying it out in the garden I've photographed nothing, not even the cat. Ideally I'd like to spend some time researching the best areas to put it in and then see what I can find.

7. Learn something new
One of my most important goals for 2016 is to try and learn something new at least once a week. I mean actively going and learning something, through reading and researching. Not just passively happening upon some facts from a documentary that was only on because I was too lazy to change the channel.

8. Read more books
Number 7 fits in perfectly with my final goal, to read more books. I'm definitely a TV and internet junkie. Sometimes I just use the TV as background noise while I'm refreshing various social media tabs. Enough is enough. I need to relearn the art of concentration, and patience. And maybe learn a few new words while I'm at it.

Do you have anything specific that you want to achieve this year?

When I landed back in England in mid-December I was looking forward to wrapping up warm and getting in the festive mood. The day after I ...

Winter Garden

When I landed back in England in mid-December I was looking forward to wrapping up warm and getting in the festive mood. The day after I landed I put on a jacket and a hat and expected to feel the chill while walking the dog. In actual fact, I was too hot.  
I put it down to being in the South, but when I finally arrived in the North East it was pretty much the same. Although it was grey and miserable, the wind had a certain warmth to it.

The BBC and the National Trust have reported on the changes of the weather this year and the impact on British wildlife. 
From one of the sunniest winters on record to a late spring, a wet and windy summer and an unseasonably warm autumn, this year Britain saw a change to the expected weather pattern. This weather has been bad for puffins, who have recently been put on the red list of birds for conservation concern, because of a poor breeding season and their burrows being flooded on the Farne Islands. Many frogs and toads suffered in the South of England as a lot of pools dried up in spring. The weather also seemed to have affected wasps, with their numbers declining this year. The weather did have a positive effect on some wildlife however, with the warm autumn helping to produce a plentiful apple crop. As well as long-tailed blue butterflies, which are increasingly rare, breeding on the White Cliffs of Dover again.

I was surprised to see so many flowers still out, albeit on their last legs, as well as a few bulbs sprouting.

I spotted a slug and thought it seemed like the perfect opportunity to test my new extension tube Andrew bought me for my camera for Christmas. I haven't quite got the knack of it just yet, but it was really interesting being able to see a slug up this close. 
Apparently, it's been estimated that the average UK garden has around 20,000 slugs and snails in it.

Winter Walks In Banff

Christmas is just around the corner, so here's list of gifts you might want to give to friends and family who love nature and the o...

Christmas Gift Guide for Nature Lovers

Christmas is just around the corner, so here's list of gifts you might want to give to friends and family who love nature and the outdoors.

Wildlife Trusts - £10+
The Wildlife Trusts offer an array of adoptions from Bumblebees to a flock of Sheep, and even the possibility to adopt trees and woodland. One of the cutest options is the Dormouse, with different adoption packs including gift cards and certificates, or cuddly toys.

Greenhouse Senstion - £21.99
This bee and bug house is the perfect option for those who want to try and attract more wildlife to their garden. The biome comes with a free bee guide and free wildflower seeds. It aims to attract ladybirds, lacewings, and solitary bees to your flowers.

Etsy - £20
This lovely print is ideal for helping to identify birds visiting the garden. The artist also sells prints of British Woodland Animals, Bees of Britain, and British Wild Flowers.

Bird Food - £11.99
Another one for the bird lovers is a pack of three festive suet balls, perfect for the colder months.

The Works - £3
This colouring book, aimed at adults, has over 80 pages of hand-drawn illustrations of trees, landscapes and leaves.

Eden Project - £8.95
This gift set contains a twin metal planter (available in cream, red, purple, and green), four coir compost disks, and a mix of wildflower seeds to encourage bees and butterflies.

HomeArama - £25+
A S'well Bottle would be the perfect gift for the explorer in your life. Available in an array of sizes and finishes, they claim to keep your drinks cold for 24 hours, or hot for 12. The opening is wide enough to fit ice cubes in easily, and a large bottle can hold an entire bottle of wine... need I say more?

Etsy - £4
A lot of the time I've found that Christmas candles can smell a bit overpowering, so why not give someone the gift of a festive looking beeswax candle with a faint scent of honey. Not only that, beeswax candles are believed to produce negative ions that act as natural air cleaners.

Amazon - £4.94
A fun way to learn about nature, this 224-page book contains information and beautiful illustrations about a variety of subjects, such as the life cycle of a salmon, the anatomy of jellyfish, and how fossils are formed.

National Trust - £30 (13-25 years), £60 (26+)
There are over 500 National Trust sites to explore, so the gift of a membership might just give that special someone the push they need to get out there and start exploring.

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