Our sound archive's wildlife collection is the largest of its kind in Europe and the most comprehensive in the world.
About the collection
Established in 1969 as the British Library of Wildlife Sounds, the collection now holds more than 240,000 scientifically organised and documented field recordings covering all classes of sound-producing animals from every zoogeographical region. These have been donated by private individuals, research zoologists and institutions such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the New Zealand Wildlife Service. Most are unique to the Library.
More than 10,000 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects are represented, including many rare and threatened species. Most British and European species are covered, often with several examples illustrating the different vocalisations produced by a species. Nearly all recordings are of wild animals in their natural surroundings, though the collection does contain recordings of captive and domestic animals as well.The collection also contains:
- Atmospheric and environmental recordings from various habitats, including temperate woodlands, tropical rainforests, deserts and coastlines, and other natural sounds such as waterfalls, rivers, rainfall and thunder.
- Copies of collections used for major zoological research projects, for example the Professor W. H. Thorpe Chaffinch recordings and the Professor J. D. Pye ultrasonic recordings of bats and other animals.
- Almost every commercial wildlife sound recording published anywhere in the world, from the first 78 rpm disc of a singing bird, published in 1910, to the latest digital release. A number of natural history videos, DVDs and other moving image items also exist.
- The historic recordings of Ludwig Koch, Carl Weismann and other pioneers of wildlife sound recording.
- A large number of recordings made for radio by the BBC Natural History Unit as well as significant BBC radio broadcasts such as Animal Language and The Living World and other documentary programmes focusing on natural history and environmental issues.
- Oral history interviews with naturalists and biologists.
- A variety of printed resources including bioacoustics books, journals, magazines, discographies and catalogues.
What is available online?
Many sound recordings have been digitised and are presented on the British Library Sounds website. The majority of these recordings are freely available for listening online though a small number are restricted to users in accredited higher education establishments.
You can also use the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue to search for recordings.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
The Listening and Viewing Service provides free public access to the Sound Archive's collections of recorded sound and video in St Pancras.
The Sound Archive Information Service is based in Humanities - floor 2 in St Pancras, where books, discographies, periodicals and magazines are available on open access.