Rafael Pompa was born in the most urban of environments, in Mexico city, but he always knew his future lay closer to nature.
Earlier this year, he took on the role as Gardens, Conservation and Land Manager at Dartington Trust and he is passionate about what the unique landscape can offer.
“I am interested in the relationship between people and nature together here at Dartington. I would like people to see the land as the meeting point of all our different elements.
“This landscape provides a context for the arts, education and social justice – for all our learning. It is like the glue for me. It is the canvas on which we work.”
Raf or Rafa, as he is known, says he knew the role would be challenging but overseeing such a diverse landscape of 1,200 acres with a small but dedicated team is not always easy.
The estate is made up of woodland, riverside, marshes, farmland as well as the historic listed gardens all which have very different requirements.
To add to the challenge, he has had a baptism of fire, coping with colleagues on furlough during lockdown and ever-changing Covid-19 regulations.
“It is hard for people to appreciate just how much work goes on behind the scenes. It’s complicated and there is always a new problem that needs attention.
“We always have to consider the balance between public access here on the estate and protecting the natural environment.”
He grew up surround by a densely urban landscape and 9 million neighbours in the vibrant Mexico City.
Little wonder, that he took every opportunity to explore the wildlife around him and often going camping or hiking.
“I was always drawn to forests and mountains and jungles – that’s where I was happy because I felt I was part of something bigger.
He studied biology at university and wrote his dissertation on how people in forested environments use their natural resources. He then did a diploma in community-based forestry and a master’s degree in forest ecology and management based in indigenous communities.
Before taking up his latest role he was part of the facilities team at Schumacher College. Now he is working hard to manage a full-time job, a young family and trying to find time to complete his PhD in ecology and agri-environmental research.
In all his work forestry is a common thread but he is fascinated by the human engagement with trees and woodland, and with nature in general.
“It’s really looking at the value of the landscape as a social-ecological system, and value the benefits that society receive from conserving nature. “The Marshes are a good example. They play a crucial role to prevent flooding and support wildlife habitat, which are very important in a world with a changing climate. But also pandemics, which are the result of habitat loss, deforestation and climate change.
When pushed to name his favourite places on the estate he hesitates, knowing that some of the best places are the quiet ones rarely visited, rather than the more obvious visually striking places.
“I like to visit North Woods because I like being in forests but my favourite places are the higher points like Aller Park or Peek Plantation where you get to see the landscape and the relationship of everything together and you realise what a special place this is.”