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Is the dawn chorus getting louder and if so, why?

Is the dawn chorus getting louder and if so, why?

Starlings at the West Pier, Brighton (before the fire) Photo: Mark Ware

On the 23rd April 2015, The New Statesman published an online article about investigations that appear to suggest that the dawn chorus is getting louder. If that is the case, why could it be? The article asked, ‘is this sort of thing simply our current dry weather conditions rendering all sound intense, or a more profound species change?’

Our Wavelength Project recordings of natural sounds, including birdsong, began at Kent Wildlife Trust earlier this year. We then went on to include recordings of man-made sounds, such as traffic noise, building construction sites, etc. We have been measuring the decibel levels of all recorded natural and man-made sounds for comparison purposes. Through this process, we have discovered that in urban environments the majority of the artificial sounds we’ve recorded have a higher decibel level than that of the majority of bird calls.

Is this significant in relation to the question, ‘Is the dawn chorus getting louder?’ To help answer that question, it is important to understand why birds sing. They sing for a variety of reasons including claiming and defending territory, attracting a mate and general communication. If birds are calling in environments where artificial noise has a higher decibel level than their bird calls, logic would suggest that the only way for them to overcome this problem is to sing louder or adapt their singing in other ways in order to communicate. If this is so, there may be unfortunate  consequences. It is understood that when birds sing, they use up a lot of energy. For birds that need to sing louder and are able to do so, their efforts may create health risks for them because of the valuable extra energy required to make louder calls.

As part of the Wavelength Project we will be consulting with Dr Alex Woodcock, former stonemason at Exeter Cathedral, archaeologist and author who has a specialist interest in the medieval period. Our aim is to create a soundscape that will be a faithful representation of the types of soundscapes heard in medieval England. When discussing which sounds heard today would have been heard in medieval times, we initially assumed that birdsong would have been one of those sounds. But following our recent sound and decibel recordings, we are beginning to question that assumption. Man-made sound pollution has steadily and dramatically increased since the Industrial Revolution. As a result, natural sounds including birdsong are often not clearly audible, especially in urban environments where the addition of man-made buildings also affects the travel of sound.

Can birds adapt to noise pollution and buildings that obscure their birdsong? We don’t have enough information to say. Research would have to take into account other factors in addition to decibel levels, including the measurement and comparison of the sound frequency components of man-made sounds and bird calls. But our early findings suggest that this is a topic worth investigating if we want to preserve and protect wildlife and birdsong.

Science Stroke Art 2014 talk

Mark Ware was invited to give a talk at Science Stroke Art 2014 in the Great Hall at Manchester Town Hall, Manchester, England, to discuss how his art has been affected by his experience of having a severe stroke at the age of 39.

The Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall

The Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall



















Science Stroke Art 2014 was a collaboration between the Stroke Association and the University of Manchester.

Mark’s Science Stroke Art 2014 talk can be found at: 

Perceptions of people (Jean-Domique Bauby, The Count of Monte Cristo, Edward III and Willliam of Montacute)

May/June 2014.  This is a blog written by Mark Ware and published by the Stroke Association for the Action on Stroke Month 2014 Science Stroke Art 2014:

When we’re asked to describe others (aside from family and close friends), we tend to offer shallow summaries such as, he or she is ‘kind’, ‘generous’, ‘arrogant’, ‘attractive’, ‘devious’, ‘mean’ ‘caring’ and so on.  This simplistic way of describing others may be due to the aspects of perceptual processing that seek the simplest and quickest solutions.

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

However, when we are asked to describe ourselves, it results in a much longer explanation (particularly if we’re being honest!) because we are familiar with the complexities of our own personalities. In the title of this blog I mention Jean-Dominique Bauby, the author of a remarkable book entitled The Diving Bell And The Butterfly.  Jean-Domique Bauby was editor of the French fashion magazine Elle.  During 1995 at the age of 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed except for the ability to blink using his left eye and unable to speak, a condition described as Locked-in Syndrome. Bauby dictated The Diving Bell and the Butterfly one letter at a time by communicating through blinking his left eye.  I read this book after my own stroke and felt an incredible emotional connection with it. Jean-Dominique Bauby’s book was an extraordinary insight into the experience of stroke and it served to raise a great amount of awareness of the condition.  It was in part successful because it was written by someone on the ‘inside’ of the condition.

Historically, when stroke has been described by people who have not experienced the condition, portrayals have not always been so insightful. In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas’s character, M. Noitier de Villefort has Locked in Syndrome, but able to blink with both eyes (at the time of publication in 1884-5 the terms ‘stroke’ and ‘Locked-in Syndrome’ were not in use). Dumas refers to M. Noitier de Villefort as…’the helpless invalid, whose body could scarcely be called a living one’. As with Jean-Dominique Bauby, M. Noitier de Villefort was able only to communicate through blinking: ‘It had been agreed that the old man should express his approbation by closing his eyes, his refusal by winking them several times, and if he had some desire or feeling to express, he raised them to heaven.’

Going further back in time to the 14th Century, King Edward III (13 November 1312 – 21 June 1377) died of a stroke at the age of 64.  This is a comparatively recent interpretation of how he died.  Some scholars believe he may have had an earlier stroke that could have been the reason for his inability to rule effectively in his later years and why his behaviour at that time may have been misunderstood. The indication of his stroke can be seen in the wooden effigy of his face that is housed at Westminster Abbey, that suggests facial palsy.  It is thought that this wooden effigy is based on a wax death mask of the King that is no longer in existence.  As with the time of Alexander Dumas, stroke was not a recognised condition, and so stroke sufferers would have been judged superficially on how they looked and behaved compared with able-bodied people.

Finally, this takes me back to the early part of the 14th century and William of Montacute.  William of Montacute was a mason and sculptor.  In the fabric accounts of Exeter Cathedral there are records of him creating carvings for the cathedral between 1301 and 1313.

In his book entitled, ‘Of Sirens and Centaurs, Medieval Sculpture at Exeter Cathedral’, author Alex Woodcock suggests that two of the carvings in the cathedral may show self-portraits of William of Montacute (the portrait below right is featured at the base of a corbel near the cathedral’s organ).  If this is the case, it is a rare discovery. Alex Woodcock says that prior to the 14th century, the concept of self portraiture may not have existed because people appeared to believe that self portraits could not convey the complexities of the ‘true self’. If that is the case, many centuries later we are again discovering that the true person is more than skin deep, particularly in relation to disabilities such as stroke.

(left) Wooden effigy of King Edward III. Photo: © The Dean and Chapter of Westminster (right) Possibly a self-portrait of William of Montacute at Exeter Cathedral / Photo: Mark Ware

Do you like what you see?

May 2014.  This blog was written by Mark Ware and published by the Stroke Association for Action on Stroke Month 2014 Science Stroke Art 2014:

Still from the ACE funded video composition entitled, 'The Dog that Barked like a Bird'

Still from the Arts Council England funded video composition entitled, ‘The Dog that Barked like a Bird’

Do you like what you see?

On 2nd May 2014 at The University of Manchester, as part of Science Stroke Art 2014, I gave a talk about my art since having a stroke, followed by a screening of my video composition entitled, The Dog That Barked Like A Bird, followed by a Q&A session.  I rarely give talks about my stroke and this was the first time I’ve spoken in any detail about The Dog That Barked Like A Bird, an Arts Council England funded video composition based on a diary I kept after having a severe stroke in 1996 at the age of 39. For me, the Q&A session was the most interesting part of this event (as I’ve seen the video composition and heard my talk before!)  It was good to hear about other stroke survivor and carer experiences.  It was also valuable to receive feedback about my art and my experiences post-stroke. 

Two questions in particular remain with me.  Someone in the audience  referred to the imagery in the video composition that shows me crawling along a floor (see above).  It represented a time when I couldn’t walk because of my stroke and so I had to crawl about my home on my hands and knees instead.  The two questions I was asked were:

1. Do I try to disguise my disability when I’m in the company of others?

2. How are other people supposed to cope or respond when they see me crawling around (as stroke is such an unfamiliar condition to most people)?  

Questions of this type frequently crop up in relation to a wide range of disabilities. The answer to question 1 is simple: I only reveal the true extent of my disability to a few people who are very close to me, understand my condition, and accept who I am.  I refer to these people as being within the ‘inner circle’. I fully understand that many people aren’t familiar with stroke and may not be exposed to disability on a daily basis.  Therefore I can’t expect everyone to understand the situation I find myself in.

Over the years since my stroke, a few people have referred to me as ‘brave’ because of the way I deal with my disability.  I’m not brave at all.  I wasn’t given a choice.  No one came up to me and said:‘You have two options.  You can walk to the South Pole or…have a stroke.  Which one would you like to choose?’ No, I’m not brave.  I simply have to accept my disability and the challenges it presents me with.  I didn’t have a choice.  If I had had a choice I would have gone to the South Pole.

Although Government would like us to believe otherwise, we live in a society that tends to hide away disability, or that occasionally portrays people with disabilities as ‘scroungers’ and a burden to society.  Strangely, at the same time, once in a while people with disabilities are held up as great role models, as was the case during the Paralympics. The reality is that not all disabled people are paralympians.  Nor are all disabled people benefit cheats.  The truth is far more boring.  My disability results in the daily need to plan and prepare for even the simplest of tasks, even brushing my teeth.  I don’t need sympathy, but understanding is helpful (the answer to question 2).  Understanding that I do my best.  That if I’m seen crawling across the floor, it’s due to my disability and my inability to walk, not something designed to make people feel uncomfortable (or an attempt to obtain benefits).

If the general public is fed misleading or inadequate information about disability, it’s no wonder that public responses are occasionally misjudged or ill-informed and in that respect it’s not surprising that many people don’t understand stroke, or know how to respond to people who have had a stroke.

In addition to funding stroke research, The Stroke Association plays a vitally important role in raising awareness of stroke with an emphasis on the person as well as the condition.  Its employees and volunteers do a remarkable job in helping stroke survivors discover that there is life after stroke and they should feel a great sense of pride in the incredibly valuable work they do. Most people are touched by stroke either directly or indirectly during their lives and yet there is still a need to raise awareness of this condition and the dramatic life-changing impact it can have on people’s lives. If you don’t do so already, please try to support charity’s efforts to create a wider understanding of stroke.

Robinson Crusoe: before and after stroke

May 2014.  This is a blog written by Mark Ware and published by the Stroke Association for Action on Stroke Month 2014:


Still from the Arts Council England funded video composition entitled, The Dog that Barked like a Bird

Robinson Crusoe, written by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1719. I first read this novel in 1976. I read it again during 1999, three years after having a severe stroke at the age of 39. Before and after a stroke. The book was a good read the first time round. It turned out to be a profound read the second time. For me, Robinson Crusoe is a ‘cinematic’ novel. The pace and content of its opening scenes set up the isolation Robinson Crusoe experiences before he later discovers man Friday. Post stroke, this novel raises one question in particular that since my stroke I’ve been forced to face: ‘If you were to be stranded on an island alone in the knowledge that you might not see anyone again, stranded in a way that makes communication with anyone else impossible, what would you think, what would you say, what would you do and what would you create?’ In retrospect, I can see that before my stroke I desired to please people and sought their approval. So much so that I became very dependent upon that approval and it frequently dictated what I did and who I was.


Mark Ware at Science Stroke Art 2014

It always puzzled me that I felt like a different person in different company. Sometimes I was entertaining and other times, extremely boring. The reason for this insecurity was simple: I had never been forced to face myself. My stroke changed all that. It violently ripped away my facade and left me with a high level of disability, both physical and cognitive. It also left me in a state of mental isolation and detachment from the people and world around me. I was no longer able to entertain (or to be boring).

During the early stages following stroke, whenever I was in public, people would avoid looking into my eyes but I would sense them watching me as I was wheeled in my wheelchair past them. I no longer knew who or what I was. A little time after being discharged from hospital I lived alone for a while and on most days I would see only two carers for 1/2 hour in the morning and 1/2 hour in the evening. The rest of the time was spent sitting in a chair on a drip-feed, unable to move, accompanied only by a cocktail of post-stroke neurological challenges.

The most difficult challenge of all was to face myself and to accept my isolation. At first I felt as though I was going mad. Then eventually, after several months (I think), I came to terms and accepted who I was. I no longer sought to be somewhere else, or to be someone else, or to impress others. I was content to be alone, to face and accept who I am. It was an incredibly empowering development and even today, 18 years after my stroke, I am still empowered. This empowerment even affects my art. I no longer create art that sets out to please others. I create art that expresses how I perceive the world around me. Of course I welcome positive comments about my art, but approval no longer dictates where my art develops. I don’t know if my art is ‘good’ or not. That’s not for me to say. All that I can say is that it’s is as honest as I can make it.

‘And now being to enter into a melancholy relation of a scene of silent life, such perhaps as was never heard of in the world before, I shall take it from its beginning and continue it in its order’ – Robinson Crusoe at the true beginning of his story.