June 2019

The Lost Sounds

Which birds did you hear when you left home today? Can you recognise the calls of the birds that live in your local area?

The Lost Sounds is a new Ensemble project about noticing bird calls to become more aware of the presence and absence of bird species, and changes to bird populations. The activities have been designed to inspire a new generation of Digital Naturalists, able to look at the world through digital tools and act upon the things they learn. Locally, The Lost Sounds celebrates the special character of Morecambe Bay that makes it one of the most significant places in the United Kingdom for migrating birds.

The project is in part a response to the decline in bird numbers and species. The recent RSPB single ‘Let Nature Sing‘ raised awareness of the loss of 40 million birds in 50 years and the 67 globally-threatened species on the charity’s “red list”. As importantly, The Lost Sounds is a reaction to declining number of amateur naturalists. The project, which has the support of the Eden Project, National Trust and RSPB aims to revive and re-energise the culture of amateur naturalists to assure the detailed local knowledge needed to safeguard environments and biodiversity will not be lost forever.

The project uses digital tools and skills to stimulate observation, listening and attention to the non-human world. It combines activities including a guided nature walk with an expert, watching and listening to birds and making recordings of bird calls. The walk is followed by time spent drawing birds and making prints using conductive ink and identifying bird call patterns from recordings and spectrograms. Participants learn to edit audio of bird calls and make and program a circuit to play bird calls. The activities culminate in the creation of a location-specific interactive soundscape that can be shared with the local community.


So far, we have worked with some wonderful primary school children in Morecambe and Quernmore, a fabulous ‘beach school’ nursery in Morecambe and National Trust Youth Rangers in Nottinghamshire. Over the summer we will be working with the Exchange, an arts-focussed Community Interest Company in Morecambe, and with the National Trust at Lyme Park and Dunham Massey, in conjunction with their Lost Words programme. The Lost Words, a book by Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane, was a huge inspiration for The Lost Sounds project.

In addition to funding from Ensemble, the pilot project was supported by a Science and Technology Outreach Grant, match-funded by Computing at Schools (both Lancaster University). Following a successful application to the ESRC Impact Acceleration Fund, we plan to extend the work by rolling out ‘The Lost Sounds’ as a ‘kit-in-a-box’ that can be used in different environments with a range of audiences. More information and images can be found at The Lost Sounds website.


Bird call prints