Many wine drinkers would probably agree that a good glass (or bottle) of wine enhances their mood and helps them de-stress. However, that’s not the only way in which vineyards could be contributing to your mental wellbeing, as birdsong could be having a similar effect.
It’s long been known that spending time in nature benefits our wellbeing, physical and mental health, but still, the full significance of this wasn’t realised by many until the pandemic, when much of what we enjoyed – friends, holidays and events – were taken away from us. This has sparked scientists to consider the impact nature has on human wellbeing. In an experimental manipulation along nature trails in Colorado, researchers manipulated playing birdsong through speakers before asking walkers about their wellbeing. Walkers who heard the birdsong through the speakers reported increased feelings of wellbeing, despite not being consciously aware that more ‘birds’ were present. Incredibly, these researchers showed that just a few minutes of birdsong boosted human wellbeing.
Not all songs are created equal, as prior experiences of certain birds can alter how different bird songs affect us. In a series of scientific studies, Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe from the University of Surrey found that bird song offered relief from mental fatigue and stress to British study participants, but the effect on individual participants wasn’t the same. For example, one participant found enjoyment in the call of a Wood pigeon (a bird that’s not famous for its call) as the call reminded them of hot summers from the childhood. This suggests that bird calls can help us notice things around us and connect with the environment and ourselves, which will help us become more mindful (a practice that has been linked to reduced stress and better wellbeing).
However, our landscapes are being silenced. Europe has lost almost a fifth of its birds since 1980s as we have 600 million fewer birds in Europe now than we did 40 years ago. This, unsurprisingly will affect our soundscapes (acoustic landscapes), as shown by a study led by researchers at the University of East Anglia who found that bird declines led to the bird chorus becoming quieter and less varied. As biodiversity is predicted to further decline, this may have widespread consequences for human wellbeing.
Many vineyard managers are well aware that their vineyards provide more than wine, though as vineyards are relatively new developments in parts of England, they can be perceived as unwelcome developments by the local residents, often over the fear of damaging nature and the local landscapes. Perhaps a win-win solution would be for vineyards to protect birds on their land, helping to slow down the decline in bird populations and turn the volume up of their soundscapes. Nature may repay you and your visitors with boosted mental wellbeing and reduced stress.
Biodiversity protection is strongly encouraged by the Sustainable Wines of Great Britain scheme (SWGB), and there are many things that all vineyard managers could be doing to encourage biodiversity, including birds. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) offers great general advice on how you can protect biodiversity on your land, and some more details on managing habitats is available here.
And if you feel inspired and would like to listen to some bird song, here is a really handy guide to identifying some of the most common bird songs from the Natural History Museum.
All photos by Natalia Zielonka.
Research papers used:
- More than wine: Cultural ecosystem services in vineyard landscapes in England and California: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2016.01.013
- Bird population declines and species turnover are changing the acoustic properties of spring soundscapes: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-26488-1
- Abundance decline in the avifauna of the European Union reveals cross-continental similarities in biodiversity change: https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.8282
- Predicting the Perceived Restorative Potential of Bird Sounds Through Acoustics and Aesthetics: https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518806952
- The phantom chorus: birdsong boosts human well-being in protected areas: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1811
About the author:
My name’s Natalia Zielonka, and I’m a PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia. I’m supported by the UKRI BBSRC Norwich Research Park Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership, and my supervisors are Dr Lynn Dicks (based at the University of Cambridge) and Dr Simon Butler (UEA). If you have any questions then please don’t hesitate to contact me on [email protected] and via Twitter: @Nat_B_Zielonka.