Over the last year and a half, Covid-19 has swept the world with devastating effects.
We read and hear of repeated lockdowns around the globe and, in the case of Britain, a final return to greater freedom being celebrated as "Freedom Day". Yet some New Zealanders seemed to really enjoy the 2020 level 4 lockdown; maybe because it didn't drag on too long.
One of the aspects of the national lockdown that people reported, and many enjoyed, was the unexpected silence. The busy hum of motors stilled for a time; very few cars; only occasional aeroplanes. In the quietness, people began noticing the sounds of the natural world around them that are so often drowned out by the loudness of humanity and our machines. Suddenly birdsong and insect hums became more noticeable.
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When the noise resumed with the end of lockdown, our own mini "Freedom Day", some reported a sense of loss at the end of the quietness; the stillness; the lack of rush; the comparative loudness of those small sounds of nature. Many people found that greater peacefulness very relaxing.
Environmental noise has been linked by medical researchers to a range of detrimental effects including hearing loss, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, disruption to sleep and lowered immunity. High levels of ambient noise can trigger a stress response that increases levels of stress hormones in our bodies and contributes to chronic stress for people who work or live in continually noisy environments.
Around the world, there are many natural areas set aside for preservation of native biodiversity and protection of natural ecosystems. Further reserves preserve areas of darkness so the beauty and complexity of the universe can be admired and studied without light pollution. In addition, there is a growing trend worldwide to preserve areas of silence; natural areas where relative peace and quiet can be enjoyed without the intrusion of human-made sounds and machines. Many existing reserves that protect either biodiversity or the dark night sky would be suitable for preserving natural "silence" as well.
In recent times, Quiet Parks International (QPI) was launched by Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who has been recording natural soundscapes for more than 40 years. The aim of this non-profit group is to preserve natural soundscapes and encourage "quiet tourism", where travellers can experience and enjoy the sounds and silence of nature.
In 2019 a region of the Amazon rainforest was certified by QPI as the first "Wilderness Quiet Park". This year, an increasing number of "quiet parks" are being set aside internationally to conserve natural soundscapes and silence.
In the Whanganui region there are many natural reserves large enough or remote enough for silence to be enjoyed, including Whanganui National Park and the middle reaches of the Whanganui River (so long as a jet-boat isn't passing by), Bushy Park Sanctuary and rarely visited spots along the coastline.
Maybe quiet tourism is a new way we can attract visitors from the large cities to Whanganui? Invite them to take a break from noisy and busy stressful environments and come here to experience the relative peace and quiet of a piece of wilderness in Whanganui.