October 19, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Henry Hocking delves into the British Library's Sound Archives
The Kaua’i ‘O’O (Moho Braccatus)

What if I told you that there were sounds that could save wildlife species from extinction and that these sounds are stored in the vaults of the British Library in London?

The British Library sound archive forms part of Britain’s collective memory and is one of the largest and longest standing collections of sounds in the world.

The wildlife section of this archive contains bird sounds that have been used by researchers in a field of study known as ‘bioacoustics’. In the same way that each of us has a distinctive recognisable voice, every bird within a species has a unique sonic footprint. Conservation programs can monitor a bird species’ population by analysing the recordings of their songs in their natural habitat, which can, in some cases, save them from the brink of extinction.

In a twist of irony there is also a race against the clock to save the sound recordings themselves. A recent kick-starter campaign called Save our Sounds intends to raise awareness of the need to digitise the vast amounts of material at the British Library sound archive for long term preservation.

This is a recording made when I went to London’s British library to find out more.

Henry Hocking is studying for an MSc in Science Media Production

Image: Moho braccatus (Wikimedia Commons)