Silence is not golden: we will miss nature’s noise when it’s gone

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As scientists announce that Earth’s sixth mass extinction is already underway, Ben Gill reflects on why we should take a moment to stop and listen to the planet

Last year I moved from Greece to a small village in France near Geneva and, while I miss many things about Greece, I don’t miss the noise. The streets of Athens are full of stray dogs that excite other dogs to bark wildly, buses careening round corners, cars using their horns at any time of day or night.

And yet on arriving in France I found that, in many ways, the village was even noisier. The birds start their dawn chorus about 5am these days, I’ve been woken up by frogs and many people I’m talking to on the phone have asked me if I’m playing a birdsong tape in the background!

When we talk about sustainable lifestyles, people often note that they will be quieter –  no car engines, no whirring air handling units, or buzzing power lines. But the natural world is just as noisy. (I include humans in that description as anyone who has stood in an urban park full of children will well know).

Silence is in fact rare in nature and Singita, one of our One Planet Partners in South Africa, found this when trialling an electric game viewer vehicle as its silent arrival startled animals that have learnt there is no threat from a noisy diesel engine. I’ve also seen this in less glamourous circumstances as I cycle through the woods near my home and surprise a horse with my silence.

When we create more sustainable cities and strip away the noise of our modern world, we’ll find that it isn’t silent underneath but that it is full of life-affirming noise, or at least it will be as long as we halt the ‘biological annihilation’ that is currently underway. Ultimately to halt the 6th mass extinction event that we are in the midst of we need to change the economic system that is driving our mass consumerism. But in the short term, we need to take steps to protect existing habitats, and create new ones for the nature that we rely on – for our food, for our oxygen and for our wellbeing.

One Planet Living is our vision of the world where everyone, everywhere enjoys happy, healthy lives within the natural limits of the planet, leaving space for wilderness and wildlife. One of the most exciting parts of my work is supporting our One Planet Partners who are using One Planet Living to protect the planet, for example Singita which is preserving over 400,000 hectares across Africa or Villages Nature Paris which has created new habitats on the doorstep of Paris.

But this is also complemented by the pleasure I get from seeing wildlife benefit from my bird feeders, or from the unkempt nature of my lawn and garden in general (see below for my resident red squirrel). Conservation doesn’t have to be done by big projects. My colleague Nick recently wrote a report for B&Q which explored the value of UK gardens to wildlife and to our own wellbeing. Check out the top ten tips for how you can get started protecting our planet in your backyard.

When the first European explorers arrived in New Zealand they were apparently deafened by the birdsong in the mammal-free forests. While we might not be able to bring this noise back, we can make sure that as we turn down our mechanical noises there is still something to hear underneath…

Learn more about our partners working towards One Planet Living.

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