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Woodland sounds boost wellbeing, according to new study

The crunch of snapping twigs underfoot. Lilting birdsong from above. The rustling of trees in the breeze. 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.

With more than 3.19 million hectares of woodland spread across the UK[1] it’s one of the most accessible solutions for those looking for ways to relax.

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

Resting state (no sound)Woodland soundsVoiced meditation app
Feeling of relaxationNo changeIncrease of 30%No change
Feeling of stressNo changeDownturn of 24%Downturn of 39%
Feeling of anxietyDownturn of 23%Downturn of 19%Downturn of 47%

The data highlights how being immersed in the sounds of woodlands can positively affect our overall levels of wellbeing, and shows 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[2] on behalf of the National Trust 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, for almost a fifth (19%) of Brits, they never venture to nearby woods because they don’t think there are any near them.

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[3] 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 have to offer both now, and in the future.”

Nation’s Favourite Woodland Sounds:

  1. Birdsong
  2. A running stream
  3. Wind rustling tree leaves
  4. Silence
  5. Twigs snapping underfoot
  6. Animal noises
  7. Wind whistling through trees
  8. Rain falling on leaves
  9. Conkers hitting the ground
  10. Squelching of mud

For those looking to make the most of British woodlands throughout the autumn, the National Trust cares for 26,000 hectares of woodland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland across 400 different places – which totals approximately 12 million trees, 40,000 of which are classified as ancient, veteran and notable trees. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/awe-inspiring-woodlands for inspiration on awe-inspiring locations where nature sounds come alive.

Notes:
[1] Research conducted by Walnut Unlimited, 2,000 British adults, March 2019
[2] Forest Research, Provisional Woodland Statistics: 2019 Edition
[3] Research conducted by OnePoll, 2,000 British adults, August 2019

Header image: National Trust.

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