An exciting national experiment reopens today, aiming to shed light on how listening to nature could impact wellbeing. In collaboration with The Open University’s nQuire platform, BBC Radio 4 and the University of Exeter, one of the biggest investigations ever conducted into the therapeutic effects of sound returns and is launching alongside Forest 404, a pioneering drama series from BBC Radio 4.
With a focus on different environments, the project hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds. It also focuses on people’s feelings towards poetry that have been inspired by the natural world.
The reopening of the experiment follows a successful launch in 2019 on nQuire, the OU’s citizen science platform, where nearly 7,600 people took part. The team hope the study’s findings will form the basis for bringing the benefits of nature to people who have limited access to an open space or garden, such as patients in hospital, older people in long term care, or those who work in stressful situations.
Dr Chrisothea Herodotou, nQuire academic lead at The Open University, commented:
“Contact with nature can improve people’s wellbeing and mental health. Yet, in the COVID-19 lockdown many people, especially the vulnerable, cannot experience nature. Forest 404 provides a virtual experience of nature, asking people to share their feelings when hearing natural sounds and human voices. We are interested to see how the second phase of this experiment, released during a pandemic, may differ from what we already know about people’s reactions to nature sounds from last year.”
The experiment is part of wider research led by the University of Exeter exploring how immersion in ‘digital nature’ could be used to improve health and wellbeing. Alex Smalley, lead researcher on the study, said:
“A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship. How might listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach help people who are stressed or tired? The effects won’t be the same for everyone, so we want as many people as possible to take part and help us uncover what works and why.”
Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in the experiment. Participants will be asked to listen to several different sounds and will need to have headphones or speakers at the ready.
Forest 404 is a sci-fi thriller by Timothy X Atack, set in the 24th century following a data crash called The Cataclysm. It follows Pan (Pearl Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers some recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her.
They are the sounds of rainforests, places which no longer exist, and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died. Each episode of the thriller is also accompanied by a factual talk which guides listeners through different themes of the drama.
The first episode of Forest 404 is on BBC Radio 4 at 11pm on Monday 27 April and is available on the BBC Sounds app. You can take part in the experiment at nquire.org.uk/mission/forest-experiment/contribute
The project is a research partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC Natural History Unit, University of Bristol, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Open University, and University of Exeter.