FAMILIES are being urged to spend an hour counting the birds that visit their garden this weekend for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

The charity said with many of the UK's most common garden birds and other creatures in steep decline, it needed help with the survey more than ever.

As the weather plays a big part in bird numbers, experts want to know if the helter-skelter conditions around the UK so far this year mean birds seem scarce, or they appear in their droves.

The results will then be compared with those from past winters dating back to 1979.

For the first time, participants are also being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens, such as deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

Another new feature is a live bird counter that can be accessed from the RSPB website.

Martin Harper, the RSPB conservation director, said: ”Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens.

“Birds come into gardens for food when they can’t find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down.

"The Big Garden Birdwatch will be really interesting this year and will be a good indication of just how much the weather affects their behaviour.

“We will be able to compare results to other mild winter years and compare regional trends, so if people don’t see many birds, we still need to know."

A recent State of Nature report revealed many wildlife species are in decline, with one in ten under threat of extinction in the UK unless something is done to save them.

Schools can get involved by choosing any hour over a month-long period for their count. Details are available by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch