Nature Overheard

Written by Giuliana Sinclair, Community Science Officer, Angela Marmont Centre for UK Nature, Natural History Museum

One year ago the Natural History Museum launched Nature Overheard, the UK’s first mass study on the impact of noise pollution on insects.

Although noise is known to cause behavioural changes in many animals, the impact on insects is poorly understood.

We do know that many invertebrates are able to hear within the main frequency spectra of much anthropogenic noise and may undergo evolutionary adaptation and behavioural plasticity in response. For example:

  • Lampe et al. found that male bow-winged grasshoppers (Chorthippus biguttulus) collected from noisy roadsides sang with a greater low-frequency component than males collected from paired quiet areas nearby.
  • Davis et al. found that a 2-hr exposure of monarch butterfly (Danaus Plexippus) larvae to recorded traffic noise increased heart rates.

Nature Overheard will enable this issue to be studied on a groundbreaking large-scale thanks to acoustic monitoring. We are using innovative technology to isolate insect sounds from background noise. Using machine learning to analyse audio recordings, we will be able to:

  • Automate the categorisation of sounds
  • Identify any changes in the sounds that insects and other animals are making in urban areas
  • Determine which human and mechanical sounds may be having an impact on the environment

Collecting as many audio samples as possible is important: the more data that is collected, the easier it becomes to analyse the recordings.

This summer we are aiming to collect 1000 audio recordings from across the UK. This is where you step in, and we hope you will join us!

Taking part

To take part, all you need is a few spare minutes and a mobile phone.

In a 10m x 2m rectangle of greenspace parallel to any road:

  1. Record audio for 5 minutes
  2. Do a 15-minute visual insect survey, identifying any insects you see
  3. Upload your data online

We welcome multiple surveys on the same stretch of road if you can do this more than once. If each of you carries out three surveys on your local roads, even if it’s the same road on three separate occasions, that would give us a fantastic head-start.

We are also looking to recruit a small number of field naturalists to run a large amount of repeat recordings – at least 3 surveys a week over the summer. This contribution would be rewarded. If this is something that interests you, please get in touch with Giuliana by email.

Each audio recording you collect contributes to real scientific research that will directly inform how we make roads better for nature.

Thank you!

Image credit Lowe, NHM

Image credit Lowe, NHM



  1. Lampe U., Schmoll T., Franzke A. & Reinhold K. (2012). Staying tuned: grasshoppers from noisy roadside habitats produce courtship signals with elevated frequency components. Funct. Ecol.26, 1348–1354. (doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12000). 2.
  2. Davis A. K., Schroeder H., Yeager I. & Pearce J. (2018). Effects of simulated highway noise on heart rates of larval monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus: Implications for roadside habitat suitability. Biology Letters, 14, 20180018. (

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