A record number of people took part in an annual birdwatching survey during lockdown earlier this year, the RSPB has said.
The conservation charity’s Big Garden Birdwatch saw more than a million wildlife enthusiasts count 17 million birds in their garden in one hour on the last weekend in January – double the number of people who took part last year.
RSPB chief executive Beccy Speight said the charity was “blown away” by the enthusiasm the public had shown for the survey this year, as many people discovered a new love of wildlife during the pandemic.
The count helps the RSPB monitor how bird species are doing and was the first thing to alert the charity to a decline in song thrush numbers.
The species has seen a 78% decline over the last four decades, despite a small rise this year.
The house sparrow holds on to the top spot in the latest survey with 2.6 million sightings over the weekend, though it has seen a 58% decline since the count began.
Many of the top 20 bird species have seen declines since the count first started 42 years ago.
And in the last year, robins, blackbirds, carrion crows and the song thrush were the only species in the top 20 to see an increase in numbers.
More than 157 million birds have been counted by Big Garden Birdwatch participants since the first count in 1979.
Ms Speight said: “We have been blown away by the enthusiasm with which people have taken part in the birdwatch this year.
“Lockdowns have brought few benefits, but the last year has either started or reignited a love of nature for many people, right on their doorsteps.
“This winter has been a bleak ordeal but as the dawn chorus starts to burst into song and the blossom starts to flower from the trees once more, we are emerging from this pandemic a new generation of nature lovers.
“We hope the birdwatch has kindled a new passion for wildlife for the thousands who took part for the first time this year – we need every voice raised to stand up for nature.
“The wildlife that gave us so much interest and solace is now just a fraction of what should be there.”
On the back of the public support, she urged the Government to take the opportunities for global leadership and policies it had this year to reverse the declines and restore nature.
A recent YouGov survey of 2,071 UK adults found that 41% of people have seen wildlife near their homes in the last 12 months that they have not noticed before.
The survey suggests that nature has helped people cope with the last year, with 63% of respondents saying that hearing birdsong has added to their life enjoyment during the pandemic.
The RSPB says householders can help encourage bird populations in their local area.
“One way you can help revive our world is to bring nature to you. Your garden, balcony, and even windowsill are potential havens for wildlife, and in April we’re launching a digital platform, Nature on Your Doorstep, to help show you how,” Ms Speight said.