Bryngarw Country Park's Dan Lock is on a mission to help Bridgend County visitors reconnect with nature. When he's not encouraging immersion in our natural landscapes through sculpture and poetry, Dan is busy educating, conserving and developing over 113 acres of Bryngarw Country Park. We spoke to the inspirational ecologist and ranger to find out how to make the most of the nature on our doorstep.
Tell us a bit about your role as a ranger at Bryngarw Country Park.
One of the things I'm most passionate about is telling the story of our natural landscapes, communicating their value and helping people reconnect with that heritage. My role allows me to explore as many different ways as possible to tell that story. As well as giving talks to interested groups and leading guided walks and environmental education sessions for visiting schools, I've designed interpretation schemes and often make short videos for social media.
What does an average day at Bryngarw Park look like?
At Bryngarw we want to reconnect people to the natural heritage because meaningful experiences with the outdoors are disappearing. Our aim is to give visitors an inspiring experience of the park. We want them to go away and feel inspired to come back and learn more. We do everything from pond dipping to bush craft. But there is no average day, anything and everything can happen! We manage the park's natural environment to be in the best possible condition for biodiversity to flourish, then try to provide as many opportunities as possible for visitors to engage with it.
What's on offer for visitors at the park?
What makes Bryngarw stand out against other spaces is its wide range of natural features. You've got wildflower meadows, ponds, wetlands, woodlands and the River Garw which runs through. All well managed and fully accessible. In other words, you can see all that the South Wales countyside has to offer in an hour or two, within a microcosm of well managed, natural landscapes.
What's special about Bryngarw at this time of year?
Every time of year has something special, because the park changes its character season by season. Spring is always outstanding. The beech leaves are a vibrant, verdant green and everything is fresh. The Wood Anemone flowers are first to blossom, followed by the iconic bluebells. It's also bird nesting season so the dawn chorus is fantastic. As the spring wears on into summer the wildflower meadows are reaching their peak. Come Autumn, the leaves of our Japanese Acers turn to fiery orange and red, which people flock to come and see in our Japanese garden.
What do you love most about Bridgend County?
The diversity. We've got such a broad range of natural landscapes, each offering something unique and all accessible via cycle track. You've got fantastic beaches, valleys, woodlands and meadows. We've got the largest sand dune system in Europe, wooded river corridors and rugged wilderness. Bridgend County has all of what the South Wales landscape has to offer in a microcosm and that's what I love about it.
Which parts of the county do you like to visit when you're not in Bryngarw?
When I have free time I'll usually spend it on the beach or out walking with my family. We'll cook over an open fire as it's a great way of getting us all outside. My kids love to explore!
What's coming up at the park in Summer for families?
As well as weekly pond dipping sessions throughout the summer, you can also take a guided walk around the park with our rangers. The walks will be tailored to the season and we'll be welcoming back our open air theatre events, putting on various productions from Shakespeare to 'Gangster Granny'.
What final bit of advice would you give to visitors?
Nature is, or should be, an unbroken whole, with climate, habitat, plants and animals all part of a single system - the web of life. In reconnecting with nature, we realise that we are part of that system too, and even in small ways we can collectively make a huge difference. The simple act of planting a tree, making a log pile, or allowing wildflowers to grow becomes vitally important, because it stitches back together a small part of that ecosystem and mends a broken link in the chain. That's not just good for the environment, but for all of us.
Lastly, if you had to live off one cake in Cedar's tearoom what would it be?
All of their cakes are legendary but it would have to be the carrot cake.