Brief, audible glimpses, recorded throughout the UK's flagship Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust reserve on the edge of the Severn Estuary.
Twelve months in the making and the first project of its kind for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge was built around the pursuit of fleeting audible glimpses: brief sonic experiences, revealed during moments of transition and flux.
Recorded throughout the main WWT Slimbridge wetland reserve, the unique sound portraits making up the project were mostly captured using small, omnidirectional microphones attached to (and sometimes concealed within) a range of objects and surfaces. Reeds, trees, hedges, fences and walls were all exploited, bringing unique sets of challenges relating to microphone placement, camouflage and protection from the ever-changing weather around the Severn Estuary.
“The sounds are very evocative, and really recreate the feel of Slimbridge.”
— Paul Virostek, Creative Field Recording
Despite the inherent risks and difficulties, this approach allowed for smooth, organic sound capture, unaffected by the presence of the recordist.
As I listened from a distance or checked unmonitored recordings the following day in the studio, unique moments were revealed: rapid fly-bys, subtle vocalisations, delicate atmospheres and internal perspectives that would normally pass unnoticed.
The portraits should be approached as a collective listening experience; they are deeply interwoven with each other.
We are an inescapable, sounding part of them. Whilst human activity is often perceived as a hindrance in many wildlife sound recording situations, I found myself taking advantage of human-generated sound throughout the project to contextualise my work and offer a better-developed, more representative sense of place.
It was fascinating to absorb WWT Slimbridge’s multifaceted environments (influenced by visitors and wildlife in equal measure) as they developed and evolved around the subjects I was attempting to capture.
“Mark Ferguson has recorded some wonderful sounds of nature.”
— Damian Carrington, Environment Editor, Guardian
Extended recording projects are rarely possible without the patience and support of close family and friends: my thanks to all, as ever.
I’m also very grateful to the many WWT Slimbridge staff and volunteers who provided invaluable help and advice over the course of the year. In particular, I would like to thank Dave Paynter for granting access to parts of the reserve normally off-limits to the public, and Martin McGill for offering general advice about species as well as suggestions regarding microphone placement.
Please consider joining WWT to help support its vital conservation work globally. The world has lost roughly half of its wetlands over the last 100 years, mostly due to drainage for agriculture and housing. This puts thousands of unique species at risk, including our own.
Wetlands are a vital source of drinking water, and play an equally vital role in filtration and flood protection; these universal human benefits alone surely make them worth protecting.
As you listen, consider this: there is a high probability — based on political developments since early 2016, and recent evidence submitted from the scientific and conservation community — that many wetland species will be virtually inaudible throughout the UK within the next few decades. This is not fantasy; it is a very real possibility. According to the State of Nature report 2016, 56% of UK species declined between 1970 and 2013, and this looks set to continue unless we fundamentally change our approach to nature.
Years from now, I hope Slimbridge serves as an incentive for others to explore what still exists, as opposed to a preservation or record of what can no longer be heard.
Bristol, May 2017