The sound of serenity: Woodland sounds boost wellbeing

The Argory, National Trust Northern Ireland
The Argory, National Trust Northern Ireland

The soft crunch of snapping twigs underfoot. Lilting birdsong from above. The rustling of trees in the breeze or a gently running stream. Our favourite woodland sounds have been shown to have a direct impact on our wellbeing, making us more relaxed, less stressed and less anxious.

A new mental chronometry study commissioned by the National Trust explored how soaking up the sounds of the natural world affects people, and found it relaxes us more than if we listen to a voiced meditation app, and in the tests, reduced feelings of stress and anxiety by over a fifth.

Over eight percent of Northern Ireland is woodland[1], making it one of the most accessible mindfulness solutions for those looking for an easy way to relax.

The study, which used measurements of elapsed time between listening to audio stimuli and subsequent behavioural responses, reveals how on average, those immersed in woodland sounds such as a trickling stream, birdsong, or crunching leaves, report a 30% increase in feeling relaxed. This is compared to no change in feeling relaxed at all for those listening to a voiced meditation app.

The data highlight how being immersed in the sounds of woodlands positively impacts our overall levels of wellbeing, and show that time spent listening to the sounds of the natural world has a direct impact on how we feel.

Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, Lecturer in Environmental Psychology, University of Surrey, comments: “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.”

Further research of 2,000 British adults reveals birdsong is the favourite sound of woodlands, with almost 40% stating hearing their favourite woodland sounds makes them happy. However, despite the positive impact the sound of woodlands has on our wellbeing, 40% of respondents living in Northern Ireland only venture to nearby woods once a month or less, spending an average of 57 minutes per visit, less than the national average of 74 minutes.

Patrick Begg, National Trust Outdoors and Natural Resources Director, comments: “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.

The study forms part of the National Trust’s research into the importance of special places and their impact on wellbeing, with previous research highlighting how on average, those with a place of significant importance in their lives report higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction and even generosity.

Patrick continues: “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 haave to offer both now, and in the future.”

For those looking to make the most of our woodlands throughout the autumn, the National Trust in Northern Ireland cares for some of our most ancient woodlands. Discover ancient woodland walks at Crom, Downhill, Castle Ward, Mount Stewart, The Argory and Castle Coole.

Visit https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ni for inspiration on awe-inspiring locations where nature sounds come alive.