Garden wildlife springs into action early

01 Apr 2014 | No. 2014-24

As the latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch reveal, much of our garden wildlife has got going extraordinarily early this year. Results from this weekly survey make interesting reading and highlight that some species became active a month earlier than was the case last year, when snow and cold delayed the start of spring. 

We often see the appearance of certain species as a sign that winter is over. However, due to the unseasonably mild temperatures of earlier this year, people were reporting some species to the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey much earlier than expected, and well before spring had truly sprung.

One species that was seen far earlier in the year than is usual was the Hedgehog, the first individuals of which were being reported during late February, almost a month earlier than was the case in 2013, and up to two weeks earlier than in any of the last five years.

In contrast, amphibians, such as Common Frog and Smooth Newt, were not seen earlier than usual, but there appeared to be something of a mass emergence, with a surge in reports from participants’ gardens. From early March, both species were seen in more Garden BirdWatch gardens than they have been for the last five years.

It was butterflies, however, that demonstrated the most dramatic patterns of emergence. Small Tortoiseshells not only came out of hibernation a couple of weeks early, they were also seen in incredible numbers compared to previous years, with 23% of Garden BirdWatch gardens reporting them. In comparison, the previous highest emergence peak was 12% in 2012. Brimstone also had a very good start to the year. The first few individuals were not seen much earlier this year than in previous years but the peak emergence in 2013 was just 4% compared to 21% of gardens reporting them in March this year.

Clare Simm, from the Garden BirdWatch team, commented: "As you can see, Garden BirdWatch is not just about birds. Our volunteers provide us with vital information on other taxa too, helping us to understand how important gardens are as a habitat for all wildlife. It’s too early to tell how the early emergence of these species will affect them, but it is an exciting contrast to the patterns of emergence that we saw last year."

To find out more about the BTO Garden BirdWatch, ask for a free information pack which includes a free copy of our quarterly magazine. Email gbw [at], telephone 01842 750050, or write to GBW, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk, IP24 2PU.

Note for Editors

  1. The BTO Garden BirdWatch is the only nationwide survey of garden birds to run weekly throughout the year, providing important information on how birds use gardens, and how this use changes over time. Currently, some 14,500 people take part in the project. The project is funded by participants’ contributions and is the largest year-round survey of garden birds in the world. For more information see
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Clare Simm
(BTO GBW Development Officer)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: clare.simm [at]

Kate Risely
(BTO GBW Organiser)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: kate.risely [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2014-24

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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