Leaves
Leaves

Having produced many hours of radio and group-listening events for the World Service and others, I always have an ear out for engaging sounds. In that regard few places in the south west have struck me as clearly as Living Coasts.

The first time I visited, I went up the walkway and out into the daylight, and was immediately grabbed by the rich sounds. Penguins cawing and honking, Inca terns screeching, and then the beautiful bass note of the wooshing wave machine punctuating it all. And this all in the first minute.

Needless to say there is much to see at the zoo, so much in fact that you can sometimes lose track of how exciting the sounds are. The architecture here combining sky views, open air acoustic, and the walk-through enclosure all enhance the sense of being there – a unique there at that.

Walking past the penguins and upwards brings you back in time, with the primeval calls of the bank cormorants. Two boys calling from deep in their throats and deep in their genes, for the survival of their species – which is the object of conservation work funded by Living Coasts in South Africa.

But wandering further up the hill brings you back home to England, a timeless England. It’s one of my favourite listening spots: the wader estuary.  As a volunteer I have had the privilege of spending time in there on some Sunday mornings. Up at the top of the zoo, the right wind can whip up a whistle in the net above you. Then out around your feet, the unmistakeable call of the oystercatcher, along with the burbling of the various waders. And an external sound really crowns it all: on a Sunday morning in particular, church bells, carrying in on the wind from Torquay, floating amongst the sounds of iconic British water birds. The result is deeply evocative, bucolic and beautiful.

Indeed, some other man-made sounds also add greatly to the sonic pleasures of Living Coasts. Have a listen to the presenter talks, for instance, to fill in some of the facts about the animals. And then head indoors, where active sound design adds to the visual spectacle and sense of place. In particular, the sounds accompanying the underwater views of the diving fur seals and penguins elevate the feeling of connection and presence.

One more type of man-made sound in particular makes a trip to Living Coasts a powerful listening experience: the simple sounds of keepers interacting with their charges. Whistling their presence to avocets; pressing a clicker or blowing a whistle when training seals; or chatting to those penguins and ducks with the strongest personalities at feeding times. Affection and care expressed for what to the keepers are very familiar animals, yet for the visitor may be quite exotic.

The birds, seals, weather and people make a rich sonic mix, which is why Living Coasts is one of my favourite Devon soundscapes.

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By Connor Walsh - Education Presenter.

Quotes All the animals are lovely with plenty of space to move about and play. Quotes