Sounds of the Forest

Scoop and Scales member Hayley Ashby explains how a global audio project launched in lockdown has tapped into a renewed appreciation of the natural world.  For more information and to listen to some of these incredible recordings click on Timber festival website links in this article….  (guaranteed to make you smile!)


Like many others I’ve come to know my nearest green spaces more deeply than I would have thought possible this year and, like most, I’m extremely grateful for them. The pandemic and lockdown have forced us all to slow down our busy lives and spend most of our time very close to home.  Searching out new areas of nature, however small, has helped many of us continue to feel alive and well in these challenging times.


We’re so lucky in this area that we have an abundance of wild natural landscape but whether in rural towns or villages or built up cities most of us have experienced a renewed appreciation of the value of local parks, woodlands, forests and green spaces.


Wild Rumpus, the Cheshire based outdoor arts events company I work for, ordinarily produces three national festivals a year.  When one of them, Timber festival – which is set in the heart of the National Forest – had to be postponed because of Covid-19, we knew we couldn’t just simply throw the programme online.


Timber is all about celebrating a connection to nature, to trees and to the natural world. Though music, art, discussion and debate the 3 day festival offers the audience a chance to slow down, unplug and appreciate the simpler things in life.


So instead, in its place this year, we launched ‘Sounds of the Forest’, a global mass participation audio project.  The aim was to encourage people to go to their local woodlands and forests and take time to stop, listen and record the harmonies of nature then upload them.  From those submissions we created the first forest sound map of the world and the response has been overwhelming.


“At a time when everything in society was being questioned and there was so much uncertainty, we felt that the natural world offered much reassurance and constancy”. Sarah Bird, Director of Wild Rumpus.


Launched in May Sounds of the Forest tapped into a moment when less traffic noise and pollution meant the natural world had been able to creep back into our lives.  People had a renewed appreciation of the nature around their villages, towns and cities and green spaces become an even more valuable escape from the 4 walls of home.


From the crystal-clear calls of two woodpeckers in the Czech Republic to the sounds of a three-toed sloth in Honduras… from a Huon Bowerbird in Papua New Guinea to the beautiful sound of rainfall on wet earth in Telford in the UK, hundreds of people have recorded soundscapes in woodlands and forests and thousands more have listened online and been transported across the globe.


There are so many studies out there which show the positive effect the natural world can have on our mental health and wellbeing, and we know that even just listening to the sounds of nature can have a similar restorative effect.  The evidence that contact with nature can enhance healing continues to grow and nature might even help in dealing with loss and loneliness.


Stopping to listen to and notice nature has also been linked to pro-environmental behaviour. If we feel a kinship, we are more likely to seek out a reciprocal relationship and care more about preserving what we have.


‘Sounds of the Forest’ remains open for submissions and the soundscapes can be accessed and used by anyone.   At a time lacking in physical connectivity when some are unable to leave their homes at all, the beautiful sounds of nature can be a way to feel connected to the outside world.


The project is now in its next phase as commissioned artists use some of the sounds to create pieces unique of music which will be performed at Timber Festival next year.  But the map continues to grow and we’d love to hear more amazing forest recordings.  If you’re interested in finding out more please log onto the website and either submit a recording or sit back and listen to some soothing forest soundscapes!