Sounds of Extinction: Exploring the Loss of Bee Populations, by Rosamund Portus

 Rozzy Portus introduces the Invisible Dust-funded creative workshop event ‘Sounds of Extinction: Exploring the Loss of Bee Populations’, which takes place on 26th August in York. 


Rozzy Portus

Department of Theatre, Film and Television

University of York



When I think back to the beginning of my PhD, which I began only nine months ago, it amazes me how many opportunities and exciting projects being a PhD researcher with WRoCAH has given me. One such opportunity was the chance to undertake a fellowship which was exploring the role of women and the arts in climate change. This fellowship, which was executed and run by the organisation Invisible Dust, offered me the chance to undertake a weekend of intensive training and workshops in Scarborough and help run the Under her Eye conference in London (which had individuals such as Christiana Figueres, Caroline Lucas and Margaret Atwood speaking). I never dreamed that I would get to partake in such a prestigious event, let alone during the first year of my PhD research. Fundamentally though, this fellowship brought together the most inspiring, wonderful and fascinating women I have ever met – it has continued to give me hope that we will collectively be able to work towards creating a better future.

However, the opportunities that this fellowship gave us didn’t stop there. A few weeks ago I, along with another WRoCAH PhD student Claire McGinn, who studies musicology, were awarded funding from Invisible Dust to have a go at running our very own environmental themed workshop. Claire and I have combined forces to design a workshop that explores bees, imagination and soundscapes. Using our combined skills and knowledge we have invited people to come together and explore the tragic loss of bees through language, creativity and sound. The best bit? We get to give everyone a pot of seeds to take away with them after the event to feed some hungry bees (okay, and the free lunch all our participants will get sounds pretty good as well)!

We will open the day by giving a small talk on why and how bees have become threatened (sadly, much of it is due to us humans!). We will then give everyone a small extract to read from the book The History of Bees (2017), written by the wonderful author Maja Lunde. I have chosen this book because it offers its readers a vision of what a world without bees would not only look and feel like, but also sound like. After some lovely lunch we will move onto the super exciting part of the day – learning how to record and create soundscapes. Our hope is to create tracks that capture how our participants might believe a world without bees would sound like: will there still be people on the urban streets, or still be the sound of trees blowing in the wind? Or will there be the sound of drone bees filling the air with mechanical hums? We will be preparing sound banks for people to use, but also offer participants the opportunity to go and record some of their own sounds. Finally, at the end of the workshop we will offer people the chance to plant their own seeds, for this is the most fundamental way that all of us can help protect bees.

We hope that by running this workshop we might be able to invite people to connect with the topic of the bee decline in engaging and accessible ways. The workshop will challenge people to not only think about the decline of bees, but also what their role as humans might be in responding to it. It is fundamental that we offer people a way of understanding and exploring issues, such as extinction, that were traditionally confined to the realm of natural sciences. Putting energy into finding ways to help a wider public engage with environmental issues is imperative for achieving the fundamental cultural shift needed to build a better and more ecologically sound world.