Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something to celebrate

Bad news sells newspapers . . . bad news, so the theory goes, is what we all crave.
But is that theory true?  Or could it be that things are changing . . . is good news gaining credibility?
Good news has a wonderful way of sneaking in under the wire.  Probe just a little below the radar of the bad news and, lo and behold, all sorts of heart-warming stories come to light.

You don't believe me?
Then see if you can guess the link between the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, a newly-opened bank in Colombia, and the airport lounge at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
To give you a little help:  the hospital is currently caring for happier and less stressed children;  the bank is proud to have registered a 'dramatic uplift' in people opening new accounts;  whilst Amsterdam's airport has been declared 'good' or 'excellent' by ninety-five per cent of its hightly satisfied customers.

The link . . . have you guessed?
Each of these innovative institutions plays birdsong as a background accompaniment to their daily activities.  Birdsong relaxes the children . . . birdsong encourages clients to have faith in the bank . . . birdsong eases the passengers before their flights and sends them on their way free of anxiety.

Nor is that all.  There's a primary school in Liverpool which is carrying out an interesting experiment.  Birdsong is being played in the classroom to help concentration after the lunch break . . . and it's working!

All of which leaves us with a profound, unanswered question.
What is the magic ingredient of birdsong . . . ?
What is the secret of the wren . . . and the robin . . . and the blackbird . . . ?
How come they have this power to quieten and repair the jangled nerves of the human race?

"Birdsong," says the noise consultant,  Julian Treasure,  "resets the ears and allows us to hear properly.  Most of us," he continues, "walk around with our ears switched off because so much noise is unpleasant.  Unlike so many other sounds there's no maximum exposure to birdsong . . . it relaxes people physically but stimulates them cognitively."

There is another factor that we need to take into account.  Deep in our subconscious, our hunter-gatherer ancestors are telling us that, if the birds are singing, there is nothing to fear.  We can relax, all is well with our world.

There has recently been more good news on this fascinating subject.
Did you know that May 5th was International Dawn Chorus Day?  Not only that, at two minutes to six on the following morning, David Attenborough launched the BBC's year-long celebration of birdsong on Radio 4.

Even if we missed the launch, we can still participate.  All we need do is to turn on the radio just before six o'clock, and we'll receive a two-minute tonic of birdsong to start the day.

To do so would be very much in line with the thinking of Peter Brace, an ecologist at the National Trust, "We're told to eat our five a day," he says, "but finding a few minutes in your timetable to listen to birdong could be just as good for us."

So . . . what about taking part in the BBC's celebration?

Sad to say, we can't finish on that positive and uplifting note.  There's a serious downside to all this good news.
As you may well have noticed, the bird population is shrinking alarmingly and, as it does, the dawn chorus is losing many fine soloists.

The skylarks that inspired Vaughan Williams have, according to the RSPB, declined by seventy-five per cent.  Have you heard the cuckoo this year?  I gather that they've experienced a decline of sixty-five per cent.  As for the once ubiquitous sparrow, many children have never seen a sparrow as its numbers are barely a quarter of what they were thirty years ago.

We've learned to appreciate the magical gift of birdsong and that's good news, very good news.  But we can make the news even better by the way we respond to our new knowledge.

What if we adjust our modern methods of farming and gardening?  What if we offer the birds our protection, a protection to be extended to all our native wildlife?
And if we don't . . .?
Then, I'm afraid, it's back to the bad news.
But the bad news this time would feature silent woods and silent gardens . . . and where would we be without that dawn reassurance that all's well with our world?

(If you're in need of that daily tonic, and want to hear what could be lost, click here . . .)