Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

How Northern Ireland’s wild animals weathered the worst winter chill for decades

It was the coldest winter in 30 years — but much of our best-loved wildlife appears to have escaped relatively unscathed.

Key to that survival were the Ulster gardens that offered food and shelter for birds and animals as the temperatures plunged.

That’s according to a new summer wildlife survey compiled by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The survey was undertaken with the help of members of the public, who were asked to spend an hour during the peak breeding season in June counting the animals they saw in their gardens, local parks and school grounds.

Northern Ireland emerged as second only to Scotland as being the most likely place to spot a rare red squirrel in the Make Your Nature Count survey — despite this species having been hit hard by the severe weather.

“We were particularly keen to learn how garden wildlife had weathered the difficult conditions last winter,” said Stephanie Sim of the RSPB.

Although there has been concern about declines in summer migrants, housemartins seem to be faring better in Northern Ireland than in any other region, with 11% of respondents reporting nesting colonies in their eaves, well above the UK average of 4%.

The most commonly sighted bird was the house sparrow, with an average of six per garden — the national average is 4.48. They were seen in 81.6% of our gardens.

The next generation are doing well, according to the RSPB, with robin and song thrush chick sightings well up on national averages.

Some 22% of gardens had breeding robins, while 6.5% were home to families of song thrushes, underscoring the importance of providing food, safe nesting and wildlife friendly conditions.

To get the fullest picture of the garden during peak breeding season, this survey encompassed mammals such as hedgehogs, squirrels and badgers.

For more information on attracting wildlife to your garden visit www.rspb.org.uk/hfw

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