Audio livestreams can be a low-cost way of considering the health and well-being of people who cannot visit your wetland centre.
Your visitors might not be able to visit your centre this year; but under the stress of a pandemic, they could be in need of a wetland for their well-being. You might be able to help provide part of the experience, especially for people who are working from home at their computers.
A free online service, Locus Sonus, allows you to set up a live audio stream from your wetland centre. The equipment can be as simple as an old smartphone and plastic specimen bags; or you can use low-cost computers such as the Raspherry Pi, with microphones and a rain-proof shelter.
With that in place, anyone working from home with internet access can put on headphones while they work and immerse themselves in the sounds of your wetland – birds, amphibians, mammals and more. Using multiple senses – not just sight, but hearing, touch, scent – opens up our visitor centres to more people, and helps unlock more pleasure and well-being. WWT is continuing research into these benefits.
Locus Sonus provides a free app, called Locuscast, and free streaming for live nature microphones. Please note this is platform is only for soundscape microphones – they do not allow music, narration, or web-radio.
Here is the how-to guide with examples of hardware and settings you can use.
Location, location, location
Where you place the microphone will determine the sounds that you bring to your home-working visitor. Where you put the microphone will also depend on what geographical and financial resources you have available.
You may be lucky to have the very lowest-cost option available: a place with Wi-Fi and electricity where you can safely leave an old mobile phone indoors and run a short microphone cable out a window or under a door. Such a setup can operate for several months, at least in favourable weather.
The microphone will pick up and stream any sound that is loud enough, including people talking! This has privacy implications for any visitors or staff who are nearby. You must inform people that their words may be heard publicly.
The safest approach is to set up your microphone at least 50 metres from a path or anywhere people may be talking; or to place it behind a wall or building that will block these sounds.
If you cannot provide power and internet access far away from staff, here are two ways to protect their privacy:
- Put a sign up over the microphone! Make it clear that what people say will go online, live. This doubles as promotion.
- Use a hydrophone! Instead of a regular microphone, use an underwater one, to immerse the listener in the sounds of aquatic invertebrates and water-flow. Note that if it is near the surface it will also pick up some airborne sounds too.
This depends on your local weather conditions. The Sound Tent website outlines systems varying from little roofs (like a bird table) to professional materials. WLI's Connor Walsh ran a livestream from home for months last spring and summer, just putting the microphone in a small plastic sample bag with some polystyrene to further deflect wind and rain, and stuck it to a window frame with masking tape.
For members of the public, stuck indoors in front of a computer, the sounds of a wetland can help ease them through the stresses of life in 2021. Thanks to the free guide and services of Locus Sonus, you can provide the immersion of sound, perhaps for less than €100 in hardware and a few hours of setup time.