Grey squirrels are the most commonly spotted non-avian wildlife in Northern Ireland gardens, a survey by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has found.
Toads, hedgehogs and badgers are also among the creatures venturing into local people’s green spaces to make a home for themselves, the Big Garden Birdwatch results revealed.
For the last 36 years, people in the UK have been recording the birds which land in their gardens and local green spaces.
But this year’s survey, taken in January, was extended to include non-avian creatures, and the RSPB hopes the results could help to slow the decline in wildlife here.
Last year, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, revealed in a “State of Nature” report that 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades.
Starlings and hedgehogs, as well as some butterflies and ladybirds, were among those shown to be at risk.
Amy Ryan from RSPB NI said: “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.”
Almost half of those people surveyed in Northern Ireland reported seeing grey squirrels in their gardens, in line with the general findings across the UK.
Less common is the red squirrel, which was only spotted by around three per cent of people.
The red is threatened by a lethal virus carried by the grey and even in areas where the greys don’t carry the virus, the reds are still being out-competed by their rivals.
What’s living in NI gardens?
More than 43 per cent of local people reported spotting a grey squirrel in their gardens at least once a month, but just three per cent saw a red squirrel in that time. The next most commonly spotted species was the common toad which hops into almost a third of local gardens at least once a month. Hedgehogs were only seen regularly in 14 per cent of gardens – and a third of those surveyed have never seen one in their garden. More than 10 per cent saw badgers at least monthly.