We are Nichola Andersen and Swenson Kearey and we live in a small cottage in an ancient mixed tree woodland near Truro in Cornwall. We back on to an SSSI and have a large variety of birds including owls, buzzards, woodpeckers; blue, coal, great and long tailed tits; nuthatches and finches, including many species from the RSPB Red List. We have just installed 14 bird boxes in the woods.  Swenson is Technical Manager and has his own sound and vision company. Nichola is a mother and works as a part time freelance marketer for local social enterprises including a community space where she is trying to establish wildlife corridors through a habitat creation project. 

We set up this project to achieve three things:

  1. Recordings of bird songs that members of the public can download from a website in order to help their well-being and mental health
  2. Establish a long running citizen science project providing quality data to researchers for future reference and work on bird studies
  3. Creation of a record over time of changes in bird population in certain localities in Cornwall to track the impact of climate change and the deepening ecological emergency

During the 2020’s first lockdown, our jobs substantially changed and we had lots of time off. We spent more and more time outside and in the garden, and we decided to record the birds on 3rd May which was International Dawn Chorus Day. On that day there was a push by people like the RSPB to record birds for one month (worldwide) and upload them onto a site but we wondered why the project only lasted for a month. Recording birds in itself is not a novel idea, but doing it daily and allowing for the time differences of the start of each dawn chorus requires automation!

We have always been interested in nature and this love of nature has deepened during the Covid crisis, providing solace and comfort in dark times. According to various reports*, this has been experienced by many other people. However, we know many people in the city have struggled to access nature and connect with it in the same way as us.

After listening to the bird song that day it occurred to us that we should start recording it and keeping it and allowing others to access it. This way we could help people to connect with nature via audio. There is research that shows that this can be just as effective as actually being outside, and birdsong or the sounds of nature can increase happiness and wellbeing by up to 30%.**

Other research by the University of Surrey*** cites work that observed that ‘a rural soundscape was perceived to be higher in restorative potential than soundscapes from a park or an urban setting’ Payne (2012)**** so by recording the ambience of a location (sea, wood, fields) as well as the bird song in it, we think the restorative value of our recordings will be even better than just recording bird song alone. The study goes on to say ‘This suggests that natural sounds may contribute to the restorative experience, perhaps because they signify a living or vital natural environment’

Launching research with the University of Surrey The National Trust’s Ecologist Peter Brash says: “Birdsong is one of the most distinctive sounds from the natural world and gives us a warm glow when we hear it. We are all attuned to the need to eat five fruit and vegetables a day or take a 30-minute walk. Taking time out to listen to five minutes of birdsong every day could be as beneficial to our wellbeing.”

Birdsong is widely recognised by scientists as a key indicator for patterns of migration, dialect and ‘Singing behaviour thus is just one focus in the general study of communication in the natural social lives of birds’*****

Our goals with this project are:

  1. Help locals who have to shield self-isolate and are unable to get outdoors to connect with nature
  2. Helping people outside of Cornwall to connect with nature in Cornwall
  3. Boosting mental health and wellbeing for our audience
  4. Long term data on birdsong collected over time enabling scientific research

However you choose to access our recordings we hope that you enjoy them, and if you want to use them for research or any other purpose, please do get in touch.

References:

*Going outdoors helps beat lockdown blues: https://technology.inquirer.net/107199/go-outdoors-to-help-beat-lockdown-blues-says-study

**Birdsong and Mental Health study: https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/birdsong-mental-health-wellbeing-study

***Bird Sounds and Perceived restoration by Eleanor Ratcliffe Et al: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/804034/1/Ratcliffe%20et%20al.%2C%20in%20press%20-%20Bird%20sounds%20and%20their%20contributions%20to%20perceived%20attention%20restoration%20and%20stress%20recovery.pdf

****The production of a Perceived Restorativeness Soundscape Scale. Applied Acoustics Payne, S. https://pure.hw.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/9976552/Payne_The_Production_of_a_Perceived_Restorativeness_Soundscape_Scale._Revised._VERSION_FOR_WEBSITES.pdf

*****Bird Song Research: The Past 100 Years http://courses.washington.edu/ccab/Baker%20-%20100%20yrs%20of%20birdsong%20research%20-%20BB%202001.pdf