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Music of nature can improve mental health and encourage environmental protection.

Music of nature can improve mental health and encourage environmental protection.

Sounds of nature such as birdsong could help people’s mental health, but this could be under threat as the environment suffers, research suggests.

The study used data from more than 7,500 people, which was part of BBC series Forest 404. This podcast depicted a world that is not surrounded by nature.

People listened in on a variety environments, including a forest setting in the UK and a tropical rainforest in Papua New Guinea.

Researchers modified the sounds to make them more recognizable by changing the features that could be heard.

Participants reported therapeutic effects from listening landscape sounds like breaking waves and falling rain.

Hearing wildlife in these environments – birdsong in particular – increased the potential of the sounds to provide relief from stress and mental fatigue, the study found.

Alex Smalley, who led the research at the University of Exeter, said: “As towns and cities fell quiet in recent lockdowns, many people rediscovered the natural sounds around them.

“Our findings suggest that protecting these experiences could be beneficial for both mental health and conservation behaviour.

“But they also provide a stark warning that, when it comes to nature, memories matter.

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“If we hope to harness nature’s health benefits in the future, we need to ensure everyone has opportunities to foster positive experiences with the natural world today.”

The study also indicates the outcomes could be strongly influenced by people’s past experiences.

People who had memories that were triggered by the sounds found them more soothing. This was due to their desire to preserve the soundscapes for future generations.

However, when there were no wildlife sounds – suggesting a decline in environmental quality – the potential for psychological benefits reduced, with people’s motivation to protect those ecosystems appearing to follow suit.

The study was a collaboration of several institutions including the BBC Natural History Unit (BBC Radio 4), the University of Exeter, Bristol and the Open University.

It is published in the journal Global Environmental Change.

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