Tell it to the birds

At last, a piece of good news that will, quite literally, cheer us all up. In a consummate bit of PR, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds made the headlines with news that listening to birdsong boosts mental wellbeing in 90% of adults. 

The YouGov poll commissioned by the RSPB found that 88% of UK adults said spending time outdoors enjoying the natural world was important to them, with 53% stating it was very important. 91% agreed that seeing birds and hearing birdsong had a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing. 

In terms of a PR exercise, this was a blinder having achieved the objective of raising awareness of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch which starts this weekend. Nearly a million people take part in this annual count and, sorry to put a damper on the mood, but the picture for our garden birds isn’t looking great. Loss of habitat, farming practices and weird changes to the seasons all conspire to make it tough for many species. 

That the RSPB focused on the connection between proximity to nature and mental wellbeing should come as no surprise. The Society’s new President is Dr Amir Khan, an inner city GP and resident TV sofa doctor. As you’d expect, he’s a prolific tweeter.

As it turns out, so is Sir Norman Lamb, former Norfolk MP, current Chair of South London and Maudsley mental health trust, and fervent campaigner on all things mental health. Sir Norman took to Twitter this week to ask people to identify a large bird he’d snapped sitting happily in a tree. (It was the bird sitting in the tree.) The nation’s twitchers responded in flocks, and the Buzzard duly identified.

Connection with the outdoors for our mental wellbeing is now firmly established and is increasingly part of a social prescribing repertoire. Charities such as The Cart Shed which provides woodland wellbeing, are doing great work to help people lose themselves in a healing natural environment.

In a world that sometimes feels increasingly dangerous, frightening and aggressive, if you are fortunate enough to have access to some green space, take a moment to be still and just listen to the birds. At this time of year, the dawn chorus is particularly raucous, our feathered friends, are all shrieking their  presence in their quest for a breeding partner.

I’m blessed that my commute is a daily walk to the office through London’s finest green space, Tooting Common.

However, the recent purchase of some very fine noise cancelling headphones cocoons me in a bubble of podcasts or audiobooks. But, not this morning. Instead, I was rewarded by the sound of some woodpeckers’ drumming, Parakeets’ squawking and Great Tits’ squeaky supermarket trolley wheel. I’m pretty sure it was that – and not the sound of the bus-sized asteroid whistling past alarmingly close by to our Blue Planet.

Respect, then, to both the calming power of nature – and the PR campaign that prompted a blissful twenty minutes not listening to a nation that is increasingly full of sound and fury.