Nature is the foundation of agriculture. Funen's soil provides excellent farmland, but also Funen's woods, meadows and the long coastline have affected the lives of Funen country dwellers at all times. Since 1800, the Funen nature has undergone major changes, partly because of a more intensive cultivation of the land. The Nature theme lays the groundwork for the rest of the exhibition.
The Funen Region
The island kingdom of Denmark, and thus The Funen Region, arose as a result of submersion of mainland in the period from c. 5000 BC to c. 0 AD. Large expanses of underwater landscapes south of Funen contain great archaeological treasures. About 50 islands became part of the mainland as a result of land reclamation in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are ancient relics on most of the islands. But many of the smaller islands were abandoned during the Viking Age, when the threat of a Wendish attack from the sea was imminent. They were resettled in the Middle Ages. A few inhabited islands, e.g. Vresen in the Great Belt, have eroded away. Smaller islets are often nature reserves.
The surface of Funen was formed during and after the Ice Age. In the great majority of locations, the soil consists of glacial clay with a certain amount of sand. Vissenbjerg and Egebjerg have stone-free clay formed in kettlehole areas. The plain east of Odense has been covered by meltwater sand, while low-lying areas have often been covered with water and consist of peat.
The widespread sand-mixed soil is rich in minerals and easy to cultivate. This soil is among the most fertile in the land, and in the 17th century it was thought that the very best soil was to be found near Gamborg in West Funen. If there was a shortage of grain in Gamborg, the entire country was probably facing a famine.
It is best to cultivate a level expanse such as The North Funen Plain. Since the soil here is good, grain has traditionally been cultivated here. Since it lacked meadowland, woodland and coast, the potential for alternative forms of production was limited.
In the woodland areas the grain-growing area was smaller, although still existent. There were plenty of meadows, bogs, woods and clay. So it was possible to grow grain, have cattle in the woodland, keep pigs, sell timber, domestic wooden utensils and peat as well as to make use of the stone-free clay for pots and bricks.
Denmark is a small country, whose climate is strongly influenced by the Atlantic. Local conditions such as distance from the coast and variations in elevation, however, have a powerful influence on precipitation, temperature and amount of sun. It rains less, is warmer and there is more sun along the Great Belt.
Earlier, the sea played a larger economic role than it does today. This was due to the presence of fish, porpoises, seals, wading birds and, for example, seaweed, which could all be exploited. Today, a number of birds are hunted, while the fishing industry is very much on the decline because of pollution and overfishing.
Denmark has the world's longest coastline in relation to its size - approx. 150 metres/km2. In The Funen Region there are approx. 330/km2. This length of coastline is due to the many islands and coves. In coves and fjords into which rivers run there is a special salt-influenced type of countryside: the salt meadow.
Wood and meadow
Where the landscape is steep, cultivation of the land is difficult. Right up to the present day, the slope of the land has set a limit for cultivation. So steep slopes are often covered with old woodland. Since steep and high areas tend to coincide on Funen, woodland is mainly found in high areas.
Because of the threat of attack from the sea, many coastal stretches were allowed in the Viking Age, especially along the south coast, to have a 2-3 km broad belt of woodland. Behind this the villages lay protected. In the medieval period, smaller new villages and individual farms moved out into the woodland and down to the coast.
Much meadowland produces much hay. This means that it is possible to have more livestock that can survive the winter. Which in turn means more manure is produced to fertilise the soil. And that finally leads to more grain. So the meadow is the mother of arable farming.
The connection between meadow and field ceased with the advent of modern agriculture in the 19th century. Fertiliser - guano - and fodder crops - clover and beets - made the meadows superfluous, so they were put to cultivation. They went from approx. 30% to 0%. The stork disappeared!
Streams and lakes
The Funen Region has about 600 km of watercourses, 26 fair-sized rivers and the rest smaller rivers or streams. All the latter are found on Funen, where they run from the central highlands out to the coast. In about 90% of cases, twists and turns have been straightened out in the 19th century in order to improve the water run-off.
Odense Å is approx. 60 km long and with its many larger and smaller tributaries it drains about 30% of Funen. The river has been used for milling since the 12th century. In recent years, a passage has been created for fish past the mills, which has resulted in a great increase in trout fishing. Sturgeon have even been caught in Odense Å.
The rivers are not only nature. They have had decisive economic significance in rural communities. About 145 mater mills processed grain, bark, powder, bone, needles, etc., while at least 50 meadow-irrigating installations have lifted the nutritious river water up over the meadows to improve the grass.
There are not many lakes worthy of the name. Three striking lakes - Arreskov Sø, Nørresø and Brændegård Sø - lie in South Funen as the nucleus of the nature area 'The Funen Alps'. They are known as a haunt for breeding white-tailed eagles and cormorants as well as many overwintering diving ducks.
Now as formerly most of the lakes belong to the large estates. The interest of the manors in lakes has to do with the potential they offer for hunting, fishing, milling, the connection between lakes and meadowland, prestigious location and natural beauty.
Apart from a handful or so of natural lakes, practically all waterholes reveal traces of peat-digging or digging for marl excavation. Peat-digging was common until 1900 as well as during the two world wars. Digging for marl took place during the work on soil improvement in the 19th century. Marl is calcareous clay.