New ‘virtual nature’ experiment launched

Posted on 25th January 2021

A new experiment launches today, investigating how people respond to different digital nature experiences.

The experiment is part of ‘Soundscapes for Wellbeing’, a new collaboration between the University of Exeter and the BBC hoping to connect audiences with nature through creative TV, radio, and online programming.

By joining approaches from the arts, natural history, and science, the experiment is exploring the emotions people feel when they engage with natural environments through varying digital formats, from rich visual scenes, to immersive natural sound recordings.

Award-winning film composer, Nainita Desai, and legendary sound recordist, Chris Watson, have both helped to create the study, which is being led by Wellcome Trust funded PhD student, Alex Smalley.

Alex said: “We’ve assembled an amazing team to create this experiment, which fuses approaches from the arts, natural history, and science. We’re hoping as many people as possible will take part, and help us understand how best to bring virtual experiences of nature to those who can’t easily get outside.”

The experiment is hosted online and takes around 10 minutes to complete. You can find out more and take part at bbc.co.uk/soundscapesforwellbeing.

As poor mental health continues to rise in the UK, early research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic could worsen this trend. Yet lockdowns across the country have led some to seek refuge in nature and reconnect with the natural world.

Through special programming across the BBC, Soundscapes for Wellbeing is hoping to bring some of nature’s therapeutic potential to those audiences who are stuck at home.

Highlights will include Winterwatch’s Gillian Burke creating her own soundscapes for Radio 3’s Slow Radio, Lauren Laverne speaking with guests from the world of nature including the founder of Black Girls Hike, Nainita Desai and Chris Watson in conversation with Kate Molleson on Radio 3’s Music Matters, and Chris Packham interviewing Alex Smalley, on BBC Two’s Winterwatch.

brids fly around a forest with the BBC soundscapes for wellbeing text in the foreground

Soundscapes for Wellbeing is also launching the new BBC Sound Effects archive, which allows audiences to escape aurally around the world from the comfort of their living room. The interactive website features 17,000 nature sounds in addition to recordings from all aspects of life. The site also has a mixing tool which allows users to create their own soundscapes.

Find out more about the research component of this project at virtual-nature.com.

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