THE British Trust for Ornithology, which employs some of Britain's top ornithologists, is looking for amateur back up - from people who can tell the difference between a blackbird and a blue tit.
With many species of birds declining in the countryside, gardens have become one of the country's most important habitats for birdlife and the BTO is anxious to monitor rises and falls in birds seen on the lawn or in the shrubbery.
The project is called Garden BirdWatch and the volunteers need only a basic knowledge of birds (although people who get involved are likely to become quite expert in a matter of months).
Says the BTO: "Garden BirdWatch is a national project that runs throughout the year. With the help of 15,000 volunteers across the country we have learned that, for instance, long-tailed tits are most common in January and great spotted woodpeckers are most dependent upon gardens in June.
"We have also seen alarming declines in house sparrows and starlings, particularly in towns, and it is essential that we find out why there numbers of these species have been going down.
Volunteers can send for a free enquiry pack to GBW Volunteers, BTO, FREEPOST, NORFOLK, IP24 2BR. For more information, log onto www.bto.org/gbw/gbwhome.htm