Penglais Campus is 82 acres of varied landscape composition, with areas set aside specifically for nature conservation and user enjoyment; It is the largest of the Aberystwyth University campuses and is the core area of educational activity.
The Campus is situated on the periphery of Aberystwyth town, approximately one mile from the sea. The University has a prominent position in the town, located on Penglais Hill, with views over the coast and Cambrian Mountains.
The floral history of the site is rich; Past curator of the University Grounds, Basil Fox, kept a unique record of all of the species of tree and plant across Penglais. This record has been digitised and is stored with the HS&E Department. During the early days of the University, exotic species of trees were planted to recognise some of the research undertaken across the University. Furthermore, the Botany Gardens, transferred to the University in 1946, contains a unique collection of tropical plants and has been a focus of teaching and learning over the past 50 years.
In the early days there was nothing between the Campus and the sea, meaning it was open to most of the elements. Needless to say, when landscaping began prior to the 1960’s when the site was nothing more than fields and hedgerows, the first thing that was needed was shelter. Advice was sought from the Forestry Commission and Roseware Experimental Horticulture Station who recommended establishing some hardy shelterbelts comprised mainly of pines interspersed with broadleaves. More tender and exotic species of trees and shrubs would be planted in the lee of these shelterbelts. The shelterbelts as laid out in the original landscaping plans do fulfil another important role in that they break up the built environment of the Campus by successfully hiding substantial University buildings in amongst green corridors which also provide pleasant access links.
Penglais Campus is primarily forested with larger expanses of lawns. These are separated by either shrub borders or small wildflower meadows. Smaller sections of the Campus have been dedicated to gardening initiatives.
The majority of the lawns on the Campus are created from an amenity seed mix and are mulched, using a recycling mower. Grass cuttings around the halls of residences are removed due to present contractual arrangements.
There are a few areas of planted wildflowers on Penglais Campus, however, there are plans to increase the number over the next few years. This will to develop the biodiversity of the understory of the numerous shelterbelts. In addition, spring bulbs have been planted in various locations around the Campus, and more will be planted over the autumn period.
There are many small pockets of trees on the edges of Penglais Campus, as well as the shelter belts that run through and around the Campus. These shelter belts create small wildlife corridors, improve the aesthetics, breaking up the built up areas, provide winter colour and provide shelter from strong winds and the natural elements. The majority of the species that compose the shelter belts are various pines with a few broadleaved trees interspersed.
The ultimate aim for the forested areas is to gradually replace some of the pine with broadleaved trees of a local providence but also to retain some of the original pines to preserve the character of the Campus at present. Recently, the University has had a Forestry Commission grant where it was used to plant a mixture of over four thousand indigenous broadleaved and Scot’s pine trees on the edges of the campus. Planting also occurred at the edges of some of the shelterbelts. However, some of the cultivated and exotic trees in more prominent locations have been retained. This mixture of natural, cultivated and exotic woodlands further develops the biodiversity and interest of the Campus grounds.
There is a wide variety of plants and shrubs on Penglais, many of which are tender or salt tolerant plants which seem to flourish in this micro climate. Some have virtually naturalised themselves by setting seed and some even hybridising. In the case where borders become mature, they often outgrow their position. In this instance, some of the shrubs can be rejuvenated by hard pruning, however there is often a need re-plant or re–design areas. Currently, the Grounds Team are in the process of re- establishing the nursery area in order to start propagating plants again and also to grow plants for bedding material.
For over forty years ago a local beekeeper has provided bees to help pollinate the plants and shrubs of the Campus. Foxes are often seen on Campus as well as a wide variety of birds, mammals, amphibians, insects and reptiles.
14.25 hectares of Penglais Campus intersects with the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere Reserve; the reserve is home to three Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). This reserve is the only one of its kind in Wales. The vision statement for the reserve is as follows:
"The Dyfi Biosphere will be known and respected internationally, nationally and locally for the diversity of its natural beauty, heritage and wildlife, and its people's efforts to make a positive contribution to a more sustainable world. It will be a self confident, healthy, caring and bilingual community, supported by a strong locally-based economy.” (Dyfi Biosphere Communication Plan – DRAFT 06.i.14)