Here in west Wales we are blessed with beautiful countryside – woodlands and streams, hills and valleys, meadows and lakes. And not a single one of them is entirely natural. Our whole landscape has been influenced by people. We have farmed it, harvested wood from it, built on it, planted things on it and generally mucked around with the ‘natural’. Even ancient woodlands generally contain evidence of human activities: Mediaeval boundary banks, charcoal hearths, and old coppice stools, for example. Ecologists do not refer to any of the habitats in the UK as being ‘natural, except, perhaps, the tops of the highest mountains – we call them ‘semi-natural habitats’.
So, when it comes to preserving our countryside, it’s important to know what has been going on in it in the past. We wouldn’t have the flower-rich meadows and rhos pastures in Ceredigion without farmers grazing their livestock on them at certain times of year but not at others. Take the grazing animals off when the plants are flowering and setting seed and put them back on when the seeds have fallen, and you will continue to have a diversity of species. In such ways the wildflower pastures that are an integral part of our landscape are maintained. Take all the animals away and our habitats would be poorer.
At Denmark Farm, our aim is to provide a place where you can see how managing the countryside can create beauty and diversity. We do have areas where we let nature take its course and where we don’t interfere, but much of the 40 acre site is carefully cared for to maximise the value of the habitats for wildlife, conservation and aesthetics. We try to tread gently on the land – cutting hay only once a year in our meadows, allowing the water levels in our ponds to fluctuate naturally, thinning and coppicing in our woodlands, but leaving dead wood to be colonised by insects and fungi as would happen naturally in a woodland.
If you are interested to see the diversity possible in our habitats, why not come and visit? The trails on the site are open 364 days a year for you to stroll around and watch out for birds, plants and even an occasional otter. Information posts and leaflets available in our welcome shelter will give you a flavour of the work that we do and the range of habitats present. Alternatively you can meet us at our Midsummer Open Day on Saturday 20 June. However, if you want to find out more, why not come on one of our courses? You can learn how to make willow baskets with Jane Welsh (11 and 12 April) or how to keep records of the wildlife that you observe with Chloe Griffiths (8 May) or how to paint nature through the seasons with Claire Ward (26 April; 19 July, 18 October). Our Growing the Future courses arranged in collaboration with the National Botanic Garden of Wales can help you learn all about improving the habitats and crops in your garden. We also run courses in conjunction with Aberystwyth University on subjects as diverse as wildlife photography, field survey, British mammals and identifying plants. During school holidays, children can go Wild in the woods on our activity days (ages 6-12). Finally, to really immerse yourself in the habitats at Denmark Farm, you can come and stay – in our environmentally friendly, sustainable lodge, in our yurt or dormitory or on our campsite.