What do we mean when we say natural habitat? I remember a day when I was visiting Llyn Brenig in Denbighshire, and I heard a comment that got me thinking about our perception of what is natural.
As the couple gazed at the view, one of them said “What a beautiful natural landscape.” I took in the same view and this is what I saw from lake to peak; a man-made reservoir (Llyn Brenig itself), improved pasture for grazing, a forestry plantation of conifers, followed by a moorland managed for grouse shooting, topped off with a few wind turbines.
All of these are very much managed features, sculpted by human influence. There was nothing ‘natural’ about the view whatsoever. However, this is how the visitor perceived it. The reality is that in the UK, we don’t have any wilderness left. Every piece of land has had management decisions imposed upon it, for better or worse.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I agree that managed habitats can very much be appreciated and inspiring in themselves, but they should also be recognised for what they are – unnatural. So, many people’s perception of wildness can be a little skewed and much of modern life can serve to detach us from the natural world from which we came.
Human beings have thrived far longer outdoors, living from and with the land, than we have in houses. So perhaps we can say that the outdoors is our natural habitat. I feel it’s important that we all make time for nature and reconnect with the land around us in whatever way we can. Time invested will increase our understanding of the habitats we see and the ecosystems that are entwined with them.
At Young Rangers we give children an early start in encouraging this understanding. At their most basic level, sessions can be simply seen as ‘time spent in nature’ and Denmark Farm has a wide range of habitats for visitors to explore including broadleaf woodland, wetland and grassland. There are areas of the site where nature is left to its own devices, but even this ‘non-intervention’ approach is a management decision. What makes Denmark Farm different is where its priorities lie. Land is managed for biodiversity and wildlife first, rather than for agricultural output and the value that this sensitive approach has for environmental education is huge. Children who come to Young Rangers (and all visitors to Denmark Farm) get the opportunity to see the effects this approach has on their habitats, compared with the surrounding landscape. We hope such experiences will fire imaginations and lead children to ask more questions so they can make their own decisions about the land around them and what they think of as natural.