Forest 404 experiment live!

Our national experiment gets underway today, aiming to shed light on how ‘listening to nature’ could boost wellbeing.

The study is one of the biggest investigations ever conducted into the therapeutic effects of sound, and is launching alongside an innovative new podcast sci-fi thriller series, created by the BBC for Radio 4, called Forest 404.

With a focus on sounds found in different environments, the project hopes to develop a unique insight into how the British public respond to nature-based sounds, and is our first step in exploring how immersion in ‘digital nature’ could be used to improve health and wellbeing.

A large body of evidence shows that spending time in natural environments can have positive effects on people’s wellbeing. But we know very little about the importance of sound in this relationship.

Could simply listening to birdsong or waves lapping on the beach be enough to help people recover from a stressful situation? The effects won’t be the same for everyone so we want as many people as possible to take part in this study, helping us uncover what works and why.

Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in the experiment, which is available online at

Participants will be asked to listen to several different sounds and will need to have headphones or speakers at the ready.

The Forest 404 podcast is set in the 23rd century, after a data crash called ‘The Cataclysm’. Timothy X Atack’s thriller follows Pan (Pearl Mackie), a sound archivist who uncovers recordings from the early 21st century that haunt her. They are recordings of rain forests—places which no longer exist—and Pan feels compelled to hunt down the truth about how the forests of the old world died.

The project is a research partnership between BBC Radio 4, the BBC Natural History Unit, the University of Bristol, the Open University, and the University of Exeter.

Alex Smalley