THE RSPB is encouraging people to get out and uncover the secrets of their outdoor spaces, after the second round of its big garden birdwatch scheme highlighted the importance of gardens to threatened UK wildlife.

Sixty-five per cent of participants nationwide reported seeing a hedgehog snuffling around their garden at some point in the year - but over half revealed they had never set eyes on a slow worm or grass snake slithering in and around their garden.

More than 585,000 people across the UK took part in the project during the weekend of January 24 and 25, with many supplying information on the other garden wildlife they saw throughout the year.

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB conservation scientist, said: “Once again the RSPB big garden birdwatch survey has highlighted how important our gardens are for an amazing variety of wildlife living there.

"A lot of garden wildlife is in desperate need of our help.

"By providing shelter and a safe place to make a home, gardens provide an invaluable resource and are a key element in helping to save nature, perhaps even playing a pivotal role in reversing some declines.

“The RSPB is encouraging people across the UK to make the most of the spring weather to go out and explore their garden or outdoor space to uncover the wildlife that is living there.

"In a few years we’ll be able to show any changes in the distribution of garden wildlife using this fantastic data.

"By bringing people closer to nature and learning new ways we can all give nature a home and we’ll see improvements rather than declines.”

For the first time, big garden birdwatch participants were asked to keep an eye out for slow worms and grass snakes. These secretive reptiles are often found in compost heaps or near a source of water.

The results revealed that eight per cent of people spotted a slow worm regularly throughout the year, while only two per cent saw a grass snake.

For the second year running, grey squirrels remained the most widely-spotted non-bird visitor, with 74 per cent of participants spotting one scurrying across their garden or climbing up a tree at least once a month.

At the other end of the scale, the grey’s native relative, the red squirrel, continued to struggle and was one of the least-seen species – with just two per cent of people seeing one on a monthly basis.

Hedgehogs remained a popular garden visitor for the second year running. Over 65 per cent of people set eyes on the spiny species throughout the year, although it is thought populations have declined by 30 per cent since 2003 – with less than a million left in the UK.

Badgers were spotted by twice as many people living in rural areas than those living in suburban or urban areas, with over 40 per cent reporting to have seen one during the year.

In Worcestershire the results generally mirrored the national data.

The grey squirrel was the most regular visitor to the county's gardens, with 82 per cent of participants spotting them monthly, compared to just 0.5 per cent for red squirrels.

Hedgehogs were spotted monthly by 30 per cent of participants while badgers, muntjac deer and slow worms were seen by 18, 10 and 8 per cent of people monthly.

The most common bird in Worcestershire was the house sparrow followed by blackbirds and blue tits.