Minsmere, Suffolk.

“Dwelling beside a body of water is tonic for the weary psyche“.

– Roger Zelazny

The bird sanctuary at Minsmere is located on the east coast of England, just a few hundred metres inland. We placed our microphone near one of two large scrapes – artificial, shallow lakes designed to encourage coastal birds to feed and nest. It’s perfectly positioned to catch the birds overhead, then as they splash around in the water. Our recording was captured in June, just as migratory birds are returning from their annual trip to warmer climates. As we approach mid-morning, this place is becoming a hub of activity. Waders feed from the muddy shorelines and gulls circle above us.

stilt bird

It is in our DNA to seek comfort in the sounds of other living creatures. We are hunter-gatherers at heart – echoes of our ancestors – still inclined on some level to survey and assess our surroundings and our chances of survival. We’re usually not even aware of this. It is innate, beyond the subconscious – something built into our genetics throughout thousands of generations.

If wildlife is thriving and there are plants and water nearby, then we are naturally going to feel more relaxed and ultimately, safe. Urban settlements are a relatively recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things – our ancestors spent thousands of years in the wilderness, it is understandable that we still have that therapeutic connection with the natural world.

Climates of the Soul

The scrapes are as lively as ever. Avocets, redshanks and oystercatchers wade the shallow waters looking for insects and molluscs. This place is also home to linnets, terns and phalaropes. Marsh harriers can be spotted hovering high above the marshlands. This bird of prey is ready to swoop at a moment’s notice.

Birdwatching is hugely popular in these parts. Our microphone picks up the sound of footsteps and the friendly “hello” of a passing twitcher. It is only recently that some have suggested it as the ultimate mindfulness hobby. Watching birds is a hugely meditative process – it engages all our senses and keeps us in the moment. Steven Lovatt, in his book Birdsong in a Time of Silence explains:

‘Without any greater exertion than sitting down and listening to birds, you may discover climates of the soul that you had forgotten existed, or that had been drowned out in the rush and clamour of everyday life.

Of course, we are only hearing the birds – but when we’re unable to see them for ourselves, listening alone helps us to slow things down and take stock.

bird: marsh harrier flying
Short-circuiting Time

No matter how frenzied the birds’ calls become, or how much they splash around – these sounds are innately therapeutic to us. They are also incredibly evocative, as Lovatt explains:

‘Some bird calls seem to have the power to short-circuit time and take you straight back to childhood. And in doing so abolish duration and remove you as far from the tyranny of the clocks as might be possible in a culture that thinks of itself as having abolished myths.’

bird: bearded tit

Listen out for the delightful chirrups of bearded tits seeking sanctuary amongst the reeds. Also known as bearded reedlings, these rare birds are found flying amongst reedbeds in coastal areas.

They are sensitive to cold winters and their numbers had been dwindling, but thanks to nature reserves like Minsmere, populations have been increasing since 2014.

The man-made scrapes in Minsmere are a perfect example of how best to interact with nature. Countless species are thriving thanks to some minor alterations to the land. Nature is robust, but sometimes it just needs a helping hand. As we listen to this tapestry of sound, we can appreciate it even more in the knowledge that human intervention helped make this soundscape so rich and full.