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Wild horses Djursland Peninsula Denmark

Wild Denmark

Penny Bunting discovers wildlife, wild landscapes and rewilding projects during a visit to the beautiful Djursland peninsula in Denmark

All photos © Izzy Bunting

The Djursland peninsula – situated about halfway up the east coast of Jutland – offers plenty of things to see and do for nature-loving families. There are pretty towns to explore, wildlife parks to visit, and plenty of opportunities for hiking, swimming and watersports.

With a huge variety of different landscapes – including rolling hills, forests, grassland and beautiful white-sand beaches – Djursland is often described as 'the wildest part of Denmark'. We spent a week exploring the region, and discovered remarkable wildlife and captivating countryside.

Here are some of the highlights of our week in the wild Danish style.

Wild horses

The Mols Bjerge National Park is a hilly region of rolling rural countryside in the south of the Djursland peninsula. It's packed with different habitats supporting all sorts of wildlife – but the most magnificent creatures that live here have to be the wild horses.

Wild horses with foal, Djursland Peninsula Denmark
Wild horses Djursland Peninsula

Molslaboratoriet – part of the Aarhus Naturhistorisk Museum – is a scientific research centre in the park. With the support of the Danish Nature Fund, it has set up an exciting rewilding experiment that has introduced Exmoor ponies and Galloway cattle to parts of the national park.

These animals wander free in a huge area of woods and grassland – and, as there is a network of walking trails through the area, visitors can see these wonderful animals for themselves.

Exmoor ponies are an ancient and hardy breed – originating before the Ice Age. There are herds of these ponies roaming wild in south-west England – so the breed was a good choice for the rewilding project in the Mols Bjerge National Park.

The herd was introduced to Molslaboratoriet in 2016. Exmoor ponies are intelligent, strong and friendly. We saw several groups of ponies during our walk along the trails, and they were curious and not at all shy.

Although visitors are requested not to approach or feed the ponies, because of their good-natured temperament it's likely you will get a pretty good view of them as you walk through the park.

You're also likely to see the Galloway cattle, which were introduced to the site in 1972. These shaggy-haired cows are originally from southwest Scotland, and are suited to living outdoors all year.

Galloway cattle Djursland Peninsula

Walking through this part of the Mols Bjerge National Park on a sunny day is a delight – as well as meeting the ponies and cattle, there are wonderful views across the peninsula, with bees and butterflies flitting amongst the wild flowers and long grasses.

Wild animals

Djursland peninsula is home to two outstanding wildlife experiences: Scandinavian Wildlife Park and Randers Rainforest.

As the name suggests, Scandinavian Wildlife Park focuses on native animals from Scandinavia, including wolves, moose, wolverine, brown bears and polar bears.

The park is vast, with several different zones where animals are housed in spacious, natural enclosures.

There are also two large herds of deer roaming free. Walking through these herds was a wonderful experience: the deer are extremely curious and eager to make friends – especially if you have bought a bag of food for them at the ticket office!

Ancient tree, Mols Bjerge National Park
Deer, Scandinavian Wildlife Park, Denmark
Friendly deer, Scandinavian Wildlife Park, Denmark

We tried to time our visits to each enclosure with the feeding sessions, when a talk is given (in Danish). This gave us some fantastic close up views of the wolves and polar bears as they were fed, and the English-speaking rangers were on hand after the talk to answer any questions.

Wolf, Scandinavian Wildlife Park, Denmark

It was lovely to see the animals interacting with each other, and enjoying the space in the huge enclosures – we especially enjoyed watching the polar bears swimming and playing in the lake.

Scandinavia Wildlife park is a member of a network of zoos working in partnership with Polar Bears International. The aim of this partnership is to sustain a future for polar bears across the Arctic – including by educating the public about the threats to polar bears, and working to address key issues that endanger the species.

As well as the large and exciting animals, Scandinavian Wildlife Park is also packed with all sorts of habitats for smaller species of wildlife. Insect hotels, and areas of uncut grass filled with wildflowers, attract and support pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.

Polar bear, Scandinavian Wildlife Park, Denmark
Insect hotel, Scandinavian Wildlife Park, Denmark

Bird nesting boxes have been installed throughout the park, and dead tree trunks and piles of branches have been left in situ – these are a good habitat for fungi, invertebrates, hedgehogs and amphibians. Piles of rocks had also been created to provide homes for lizards, toads and spiders.

Throughout the park we found excellent information boards to explain how the various wildlife habitats work. These boards also offer inspiration and tips to gardeners to create their own wildlife-friendly spaces back at home.

Randers Regnskov (Danish for rainforest) offers a fascinating day out for all ages. It's a recreated rainforest experience, housed in three architecturally stunning glass domes.

Randers Regnskov

These domes are filled to the brim with lush vegetation, tropical flowers and tumbling waterfalls. But what makes Randers Regnskov really special is that there are all sorts of rainforest creatures roaming freely within the dome, from butterflies, birds and bats to monkeys and other mammals.

The three domes represent three different geographical areas: South America, Africa and Asia. Each dome contains regional flora and fauna. We saw Prevost's squirrels, lemurs, monkeys, bats, lizards, birds and butterflies as we explored.

Prevost's squirrel, Randers Regnskov
Lemur, Randers Regnskov

In the South America dome, there are steps winding up to the rainforest canopy where you can get a birds-eye view over the rainforest from a series of exciting rope bridges. Meanwhile, the interior design of the Asia dome is based on Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple, with waterfalls tumbling over replicated ruins.

Waterfall, Randers Regnskov
Randers Regnskov rope bridge

The highlight of the Africa dome is meeting the curious lemurs – they are not at all shy, so it's possible to get some amazing close-up views of them (without touching, of course). You may also be able to spot the elusive blue duiker, the world's smallest antelope.

As well as the three large domes, there is a snake temple – where, if you want to, you can get thrillingly close to a python. You can also learn about nocturnal animals in the night zoo and see all sorts of aquatic creatures in the aquarium.

There is a big focus on wildlife conservation at Randers Regnskov – both locally and globally. The Randers Rainforest's Wildlife Foundation, set up in 2010, has purchased its own area of rainforest in Bigai, Ecuador, allowing jaguars, anteaters, giant armadillos and other local species to continue to live undisturbed.

The foundation has also supported a project to recreate an area of water meadows, Vorup Meadows, just behind Randers Regnskov. This project provides information to visitors about this important habitat, and has helped to preserve some of the ancient Danish livestock species that once grazed such areas. A successful rewilding project here saw the first reintroduction of European bison in Denmark.

Admission to Randers Regnskov is included in the Aarhus Card – a convenient and money-saving way to explore many of the area's attractions.

Wild landscapes

As well as the hilly, inland walking trails in the Mols Bjerge National Park, the Djursland peninsula offers vast stretches of unspoilt, white sandy beaches – many backed by beautiful forests that are perfect for an afternoon stroll.

Boeslum Strand, for example, is an undeveloped stretch of pristine sand and pebbles lapped by clear blue water. On a walk along this coastline, keep a look out for hollow stones – the holes in the stones were created by worms and insects during the Jurassic period, some 150 million years ago.

Crested woodpartridge, Randers Regnskov
Snake, Randers Regnskov
Randers Regnskov animal
Boeslum Strand, Denmark
Stone with a hole, Boeslum Strand

Or try the wild stretches of coastline at Ahl, in the south of the peninsula, where kite surfers can often be seen performing acrobatic leaps and turns out of the water. There are walking trails along the coast here, offering fantastic sea views, and also walks through beautiful sun-dappled woodland of Scots pine, oak, silver birch and rowan.

Ahl coastline

The Djursland peninsula is not just about stunning landscapes – it's also home to one of Denmark's prettiest towns. Charming, picture-postcard Ebeltoft is the perfect place for a wander. Pastel-coloured houses, adorned with hollyhocks and sunflowers, line narrow, cobbled streets – and there are also dozens of craft shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants to visit.

Sunflower, Ebeltoft

Green Adventures August 2020