Grey squirrel top of West Sussex wildlife survey

The common grey squirrel. Photo: Phil Dennett.
The common grey squirrel. Photo: Phil Dennett.

More than half of people in West Sussex see grey squirrels in their gardens every day but only a fraction ever see the endangered red squirrel, according to the second round of results from the world’s biggest wildlife survey, run by the RSPB.

More than 40 per cent nationally see frogs at least once a month, but the numbers are lower in West Sussex, with just 12 per cent seeing frogs monthly.

Hedgehogs, which have dropped by 30 per cent nationally since the millennium, were only seen regularly by nine per cent of people in West Sussex.

This year, for the first time in the 36 year history of the survey, Big Garden Birdwatch participants were also asked to tell the RSPB about some of the other wildlife that visits their gardens throughout the year, including common frogs, red and grey squirrels, badgers and hedgehogs. This follows the release of the bird results by the charity at the end of last month.

Almost half a million people took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch and most of them supplied extra information on the other garden wildlife they see. The RSPB hopes to use it to build an overall picture of how important gardens are for all types of wildlife and tailor its advice so people can help their wild visitors find a home, feed and breed successfully.

The RSPB’s partners, including Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), and The Mammal Society, have been highly enthusiastic about including these data in their national datasets.

According to the results, grey squirrels came out on top overall, with 82 per cent of people in the south east seeing them in their gardens at least once a month.

At the other end of the scale, the grey’s native relative, the red squirrel, was the least-seen garden visitor, with less than one per cent of people in West Sussex reporting a sighting.

The red squirrel, which is threatened by a lethal virus carried by the grey, has been lost from much of the UK. In areas where the greys don’t carry the virus, the reds are still affected, essentially being out-competed by their rivals. However, in rural Scotland, where the red still has a stronghold almost 1 in 5 people see them in their gardens at least monthly.

Although still quite widespread and seen in 67 per cent nationally of the UK’s gardens at least once, hedgehogs were only seen regularly in less than a third of gardens in West Sussex and their populations have seriously declined by around 30 per cent since the millennium.

Badgers are spotted more regularly by people living in rural areas, with 40 per cent reporting to have seen one. However, the black and white mammal isn’t exclusive to the countryside, with 20 per cent of suburban and 15 per cent of urban residents seeing them in their gardens too. In West Sussex they are not commonly sighted, with around ten per cent reporting that they see them regularly.

Deer are also much more common in the countryside, with 40-50 per cent of rural residents seeing roe or muntjac deer in their garden at some point, compared with only 7 per cent of urban dwellers. Roe deer are more common in West Sussex, but not that frequently spotted, with five per cent claiming to see them monthly, while only one per cent reported seeing muntjacs.

When it comes to toads, 28 per cent of people in the UK see them monthly. The warty amphibians, which have declined, especially in central and southern England, are more likely to visit gardens in rural areas, with 41 per cent of householders in these areas seeing them on a monthly basis. Ten per cent of West Sussex respondents claimed to see toads weekly.

When not hibernating, the common frog takes the lead as the most abundant garden amphibian, according to the results. Approximately half of people in the UK see a common frog in their gardens at least monthly, regardless of whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban area. In West Sussex, 12 per cent reported monthly sightings of frogs.

Last year, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the ground-breaking State of Nature report revealing 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades.

Many garden favourites were among the creatures shown to be in serious trouble including starlings and hedgehogs, as well as some butterflies and ladybirds. All are in danger of further declines unless more is done to provide better habitats.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “This massive survey shows how important our gardens are for the amazing variety of wildlife living there.

“The State of Nature report showed that we need more information across many species groups, so widening the Big Garden Birdwatch’s scope to include other animals made perfect sense.

“This is the start of something big and something very, very important. In a few years’ time we’ll be able to compare how the distribution of garden wildlife may have changed. Hopefully, the fact that more people are helping to give nature a home in their gardens and outside spaces will mean we see improvements rather than declines.”

The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the UK to create a million new homes for nature.