Elan Valley, Powys
The Victorians built a vast chain of dams and reservoirs high in the Cambrian Mountains to supply water to Birmingham. The 70-square-mile (181sq km) estate is managed by Welsh Water, whose job is to keep the water sparkly clean – which they do by keeping the surrounding landscape as naturally pristine as possible. A century of careful stewardship has made the Elan Valley a wildlife paradise – and it’s also gorgeous to look at on a scenic drive/cycle around the reservoirs. You can hire bikes from the visitor centre, which is open year-round.
Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, New Quay
You’ve got a decent chance of spotting Britain’s biggest resident pod of dolphins almost anywhere along Ceredigion’s southern coast, and there are plenty of boat trips for hire. But to help support conservation work, head for the Wildlife Trust’s Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay. They run survey trips out into the bay, complete with underwater microphone, so you can eavesdrop on dolphin gossip. Back at base, there’s plenty of information about dolphins, porpoises, seals, whales, sharks, sunfish, turtles, and all the other residents of Cardigan Bay.
Centre for Alternative Technology, Powys
An abandoned slate mine near Machynlleth was taken over by a sustainable community in the mid-1970s. At the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) the focus is on technology and inspiring holidaymakers with a range of interactive displays and working examples of environmentally-responsible buildings, organic growing, composting, waste management and sustainability at home. If that all sounds a bit worthy, it’s also simply a fun place to visit: in our experience, children really enjoy eating the flowers (staff encourage kids to try edible varieties), mucking around in the play areas, and rambling around the Quarry Trail.
GreenWood Family Park, Snowdonia
One of the best family attractions in North Wales, GreenWood Family Park prides itself on being eco-friendly: it has the world’s only people-powered roller coaster, and the UK’s first solar-powered ride, the Solar Splash. There’s also active adventure play, mazes, archery, jungle boats, live shows and crafts, furry and feathered residents – and an indoor Enchanted WoodBarn as a rainy-day back-up.
Plas Tan y Bwlch, Snowdonia
Snowdonia National Park’s Environmental Studies Centre delivers courses in countryside stewardship and skills in a superb position, overlooking the valley of the river Dwyryd in the heart of the National Park. Public courses include orienteering, guided walks and hikes, crafts, history, archaeology, painting, illustration, photography, wildlife and fishing. The tea room and gardens are worth a visit, too.
Senedd, Cardiff Bay
The National Assembly building was designed for open democracy: anyone can walk in and watch our politicians at work, courtesy of a raised gallery above the debating chamber. But the Richard Rogers-designed building also has a strong ethos of sustainability. It’s ventilated naturally by a cowl on the roof, the heating is managed by a biomass boiler and geothermal pipes deep beneath the old docks, and rainwater is harvested from the roof to flush the loos. Traditional Welsh materials like slate and oak also feature strongly.
Lammas Ecovillage, Pembrokeshire
The pioneering self-sufficiency guru John Seymour moved to West Wales in the 1960s, one of many eco-idealists who came to create alternative communities here. The same ethos lives on at the Lammas Ecovillage - a collective of nine ‘Hobbit’ houses, clustered around a central community hub. They aim to use environmental design, green technology and permaculture to show that it’s perfectly possible to live lightly in a landscape in which people are part of the wider ecosystem. It’s also about inspiring others to follow in their (low-carbon) footsteps: they run guided tours every Saturday from May to September.
Ffarm Moelyci, Bangor
The 320 acres (130ha) of Moelyci farm seemed destined to become a holiday-home development until the local community clubbed together to buy it in the early 2000s. It’s now run as an environmentally-friendly farm, with 60 allotments for locals, while the Blas Lôn Las shop/café champions local food and drink.
Denmark Farm Conservation Centre, Ceredigion
When the Shared Earth Trust took over Denmark Farm in 1987 they set about reversing the damage done by intensive farming by restoring the biodiversity of its grassland, wetland, woodland and scrub habitat. They’ve succeeded admirably: the number of bird species has tripled, for example – and they want to show everyone how it’s done. They do all types of conservation courses, family events, and residential visits. The name, by the way, is original: the farm was founded in the early 1800s by a Welshman who had made his fortune (or at least, enough to buy a farm) working in London’s Denmark Hill.
Down to Earth, Gower
On one level, Down to Earth is an activity centre that’ll take you on outdoor adventures on the beautiful Gower Peninsula (coasteering, climbing, beach activities, etc). So far, so good. But it’s also a social enterprise that helps vulnerable young people to find themselves through adventure, wellbeing and eco-building activities. So when you take part, you’ll also be supporting the excellent work they do. As their slogan says: ‘Doing good things together’.
Our three National Parks – Pembrokeshire, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia – cover a fifth of Wales’ land surface. They were established with three main goals: to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage; to help visitors understand and enjoy the parks’ special qualities; and to look after the communities who live there. They’ve succeeded: go to their visitor centres to find out how to get the most out of your visit, spend a few quid in the shop, and you’ll be helping to support their great work.
National Trust Wales
The National Trust is the biggest landowner in Wales, which brings the hefty responsibility of looking after some of our most precious landscapes. In the past decade they’ve introduced many pioneering green energy systems into their properties, slashed their carbon footprint, and actively promoted ways in which we can all live greener lives.