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Country diary: Wildlife needs quiet, not the roar of motorbikes | Mark Cocker
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Country diary: Wildlife needs quiet, not the roar of motorbikes | Mark Cocker

The sounds of curlews rippling overhead and stonechats’ song were instantly drowned out. Instead, all you could hear was the brutal revving of motorbikes as a caravan of offroad bikers – almost a default encounter in parts of this region at weekends – ground up the gritstone path, then minutes later came roaring down. They repeated it all twice. The inconvenience was intermittent as one after the other they forced us from the path. Yet the noise pollution, which was a violation of this whole landscape as well as surely the very meaning of a national park, was constant.

“You do your thing, mate, this is ours,” was their justification when confronted, as if it were a matter of individual liberty; as if each pedestrian or biker were an equal and thus free to find their own path to fulfilment in the Peak District. I wish we could pose the same issues to the stonechats and curlews.

What we do know, because of Paul Donald’s groundbreaking research in his book Traffication, is that noise pollution is a disaster for nature. Roads are major barriers even for insects, but certainly for all vertebrate animals. Engine noise inflicts deep stress on non-humans and can enforce an evacuation of whole areas either side of the offending decibels. Donald concludes that: “As extinction‑driving, landscape-splintering, wildlife‑slaughtering, soundscape‑shattering … catastrophes go, traffication might actually be quite an easy one to fix.”

What it requires is to acknowledge noise pollution for what it is: a problem just as destructive of the environment as the effluent or agricultural runoff in our rivers. In its place, but especially in the national parks, we could establish an inviolable right of its inhabitants – birds, insects and people – to silence. Or at least to minimum noise.

Last month, the Campaign for National Parks, on the 75th anniversary of the network’s inauguration, issued a report showing that just 6% of national parks nationwide are in good health for nature. The solutions, like the eel-like slipperiness of the word “nature” itself, are complicated, but achieving silence beneficial to wildlife shouldn’t be.

Source: theguardian.com