The crunch of leaves underfoot, the dulcet tones of birdsong, the trickle of a nearby stream, the rustle of trees blowing in the breeze – these are all woodland sounds which have been proven to be beneficial for our wellbeing.
According to recent research by the National Trust, soaking up sounds of the natural world such as running streams, birds tweeting or crackling leaves can make us more relaxed, less stressed and less anxious.
The new mental chronometry study which measured elapsed time between listening to audio stimuli and subsequent behavioural responses of 600 respondents revealed natural sounds relax us more than listening to a voiced meditation app, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety by over a fifth. Participants reported a 30 per cent increase in feeling relaxed compared to no change in feeling relaxed for those listening to a voiced meditation app.
With more than 3.19 million hectares of woodland across the UK, it’s one of the most accessible and practical solutions for people searching for a way to relax. Plus, the falling and changing colours of leaves makes autumn a great time of year to head outdoors.
Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe explains: ‘There is a large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that experience of nature can benefit health and wellbeing, including recovery from everyday psychological stress.
‘Much of this research has focused on visual experiences, but more recent work has shown that the sounds of the outdoors, such as birdsong, wind, and water, can also improve mood and reduce stress. These sounds offer a way to connect with nature no matter where you are.’
The study forms part of the National Trust’s research into the importance of special places and their impact on wellbeing. Previous research identified, on average, those with a place of significant importance in their lives report higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and even generosity.
‘Sometimes, a simple walk in woodlands, where you’re surrounded by the echoes of calling birds, and that satisfying crunch of fallen leaves and twigs underfoot, is the perfect remedy for reducing stress,’ says National Trust Outdoors and Natural Resources Director, Patrick Begg.
A further study, on behalf of the National Trust, revealed of 2,000 British adults birdsong is the nation’s favourite natural sound with a running stream not far behind. 40 per cent stated hearing their favourite woodland sound makes them happy. However, despite the positive impact the sound of nature has on our wellbeing, almost a fifth of Brits never venture to nearby woods because they don’t think there are any near them.
Patrick adds: ‘No matter whether the connection is with an outdoor or urban place, our research shows the intrinsic link between connections to place and the triggering of positive emotional experiences. For those who have a connection to woodlands, this sense of wellbeing is further heightened through nature sounds, so we want to make sure we’re conserving our woodlands, so the public can make the most of the benefits they have to offer both now, and in the future.’
Britain’s favourite woodland sounds
- A running stream
- Wind rustling tree leaves
- Twigs snapping underfoot
- Animal noises
- Wind whistling through trees
- Rain falling on leaves
- Conkers hitting the ground
- Squelching of mud
The National trust cares for 26,000 hectares of woodland across 400 different locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, totalling approximately 12 million trees.
Find out which awe-inspiring woodlands are near you and listen as the natural sounds come alive.