Chris Watson (Part Two): If a podcast is recorded in a forest, and no one is around to hear it…

Sep 9 2019

Chris Watson, president of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, joins David Oakes in this episode of Trees A Crowd

David Oakes

David Oakes


Chris Watson


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About this episode:

This is the second part of the conversation with Chris Watson, following on from the recordings made during the dawn chorus. Chris is a legendary sound recordist and president of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. He’s worked on a whole host of documentaries, including David Attenborough’s Life of Birds, talks about the time in his band, Cabaret Voltaire, and how he has since collaborated with the likes of Bjork and beyond. His passion for music and nature are brought together as he guides us through these moments, including his attempt to capture, in 18 minutes, the 10,000-year journey of a piece of ice sliding down the side of a glacier, the sound of a cheetah purring, and the song of the blue whale.

David's thoughts:


As you heard on the podcast, Chris is loaded with experiences and anecdotes. He has travelled the world and, through listening, has learned a great deal. I’ve edited for you here around two hours of our conversation, but over the night and morning I spent with him my ears rarely stopped gawking with fascination and awe. We dare not forget that our ears are extraordinary!

His belief that our latitude and longitude provides the UK with the most exciting dawn chorus fascinates me. We think of the geography of an area as something that affects climate, affects raw materials, affects flora and fauna; but to be reminded that it also affects the invisible is humbling. Having spent these hours with Chris has made me use my ears in a whole new way – something that is useful when recording a podcast!

Since recording this episode I’ve spoken to others who have noted the shifting nature of our Avian population. Clive Owen and Rob Rose, both Yorkshire Farmers, and Sir John Lawton (President of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) all commented on the changing of the birds they’re seeing: Cuckoos being seen further north than normal; Curlews increasing in number; Storks returning to the coastal areas of the North of the Country. But they also noticed the decline in Sandpipers, once common, of Housemartens no longer nesting in sites once alive with the winged wonders. Saharan winds drive migratory birds further North to sites that are not necessarily appropriate to support these changing populations. Climate is having a visible impact, but similarly the sound of an area is changing as a result. The dawn chorus is changing. Our ears perhaps will become key in spotting the early warning signs of our shifting environment.

I find it a little perverse that one of the most fascinating interviews to date has left me with not a great deal to say – but when you have him here to tell you in his own words, there’s little need to paraphrase. We sat out until midday – in the cold and wrapped up warm – I never tired of his tales. I find it no wonder that so many people are keen to collaborate with him. I hope I can find an excuse to go visit again soon.


Chris Watson

Sir David Attenborough (Wikipedia)

Hrafn: Conversations with Odin

The Border Rievers

EVP (Wikipedia)

Tasmanian Forest (Wikipedia)

Cabaret Voltaire (Wikipedia)

Chris’ “Pacificus Oceanus”

Bjork’s “Utopia” (Wikipedia)

Mistle Thrush (RSPB)

Chris’s “Weather Report”


Books mentioned by Chris:

“The Old Straight Track” by Alfred Watkins

“Journey Through Britain” by John Hillaby

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