BRITAIN'S wild birds are facing a life or death situation brought upon by the severe weather, says the country's leading ornithological research body. And with even more harsh weather forecast in the months ahead, gardeners could come to the rescue with food, water - and information.
The British Trust for Ornithology has long known that gardens are often a last-ditch haven for birds in hard winters, thanks to the shelter they provide and food put out by caring householders.
But this is winter could be particular severe because the autumn provided a poor crop of seeds which means that berries that normally stand through the winter have already been stripped.
As well as appealing to garden owners to continue putting out food and water - out of the reach of domestic cats - it also is compiling important data to see which bird species cope well with severe weather and those which succumb. Such data could help us save threatened species in the future.
"We know that this cold spell will have a significant effect on birds and on how they use gardens. The combination of freezing temperatures and biting winds will mean that it really will be make or break time for some of the smaller species such as robins and long-tailed tits," says Mike Toms, who organises the trust's Garden Watch scheme.
"The food that garden owners put out for birds could be the difference between life and death for many species. We want to know how this weather will affect the birds' behaviour. Will some species use gardens more than others? We really need peoples' help in finding out what happens."
The Garden Watch scheme already has 17,000 contributors - but the scientists need more. For more information, see www.bto.org/gbw