First published June 2018

We’re in the middle of a heatwave, it’s a Sunday, summer is truly here so what can be better than relaxing in the garden absorbing the warmth and the associated symphonies of the natural world. Very soon it begins, the soothing hum of an electric lawnmower, the excruciating whine of a strimmer, if you are lucky you might hear the distant choking of a chainsaw, but best of all the musical harmonies of a trio of power drills, angle grinders and tile cutters. Welcome to the sound of a 21st Century summer in England.

No longer does the gentle drone of bees and hoverflies prevail, nor the soothing sound of leaves rustling in a slight breeze, or the general sound of birdsong, all drowned out by a cacophony of machinery where the noise virtually obliterates all natural sounds, invades your aural space and prevents you from enjoying what you most like doing within your own boundaries. Now, I realise that everyone has to maintain their gardens and if you are at work all week then you have a limited amount of time to mow the lawn, trim the hedges and vegetation or indeed carry out your own house/ building extensions. Last summer in our road and on virtually every Sunday, an extension was being built by the occupants, so power drills, grinders and grinders were in constant use a combination that, for me, made it impossible to be outside, the noise piercing through the air into my space.

I checked the laws relating to noise and basically, they state that on weekends and bank holidays you can’t use the above instruments before 9.00am and after 8.00pm but between those hours, you can make as much noise as you want, they don’t really come under the term ‘unreasonable’. In the case of building construction, it can be stipulated in the planning consent that work should not be undertaken on a Sunday. In Germany, there is enforced legislation to say that on no account can any of the above outlined activities take place; lucky Germans! Now, I daresay that if I ever raise this to people and said wouldn’t it be great if we had such a law in the UK, the majority of responses would be that I should take myself off to Germany then (probably not in quite such polite language!), but I really do feel that I have just as much right not to have to listen to other people’s noise for at least a limited defined period as they have to make it.

Our world has become increasingly noisier over the years and this has generated research into the impact that this can have on wildlife, particularly birds. There has for a few years now been anecdotal evidence that more birds such as blackbirds, robins and song thrushes are singing during the night, one reason being proposed is that our cities and towns are so noisy during the day and evening that birds singing for a mate or to proclaim a territory can’t be heard over the din! Night time is quieter so they are more likely to get a response if they sing then. In 2001, the University of Bonn started to research how loud the nightingales sang that bred in the green areas in Berlin and they recorded one bird was singing at 93 decibels, that’s 5 decibels louder than noise regulations allowed! Which set the question, how loud can birds sing? As loud as they have to make themselves heard apparently.

Noise pollution is becoming a bigger issue not only for it’s impact on wildlife but on our own general health and wellbeing. Is it too much too ask that for just a relatively short time in our busy week we have time to enjoy just a little peace and quiet?

Mike Russell