The grass cutting season is coming to an end, to the delight of many! But grass is not all about creating the perfect turf – at Bodnant Garden we’ve been doing a bit more than striping the lawns this year.
We are developing a Grassland Management Plan to take care of all of our 80 acres, from the formal areas of the Italianate Terraces to the meadows of the Shrub Borders and even areas of rough grass in the car park. It’s part of our long term aim to protect the wildlife so dependent on grasslands and so under threat from their decline in recent years…and also to enable more visitors to enjoy them.
Environmental consultant Mike Howe has produced as report for us, looking at the garden’s grasslands and at ways to look after them.
Put simply, there are two types of grass at Bodnant Garden; the formal lawns, managed for visitors, and meadow grassland, managed for wildlife. Our three flower meadows, The Old Park, Cae Poeth and Furness Field, are all different in character but of great wildlife value and recent surveys show them to be thriving and species-rich.
The Old Park is one of the oldest parts of the garden, parkland dating back to the late 1700s. In spring it is a mass of snowdrops then daffodils and in summer it sways with grasses and flowers, and buzzes with butterflies and bees. The meadow has been cut for hay occasionally in the past and grazed by sheep. It was opened to the public for the first time this summer and was a big hit with visitors.
Cae Poeth is a private area to the north of the garden which is particularly rich in wildflowers, as well as bluebells beneath the oak trees in spring. It has been cut for hay in the last two years though not grazed.
Furnace Field is another private area at the west of the garden, although we are planning to open this to the public from 2017. It is another flower-rich meadow which is cut for hay every year by a local farmer, but not grazed. The grassland is dominated by Hay Rattle, which keeps the grasses down so that other species have flourished. When surveyed it was found that there were a high number of bumble bees.
The garden’s other informal grassland, in public areas of the Shrub Borders, are left to grow, mown in August and grass cuttings collected for compost. In the car park too, grass is allowed to grow until summer when it is mown and strimmed.
As Mike points out, there are many benefits to maintaining our meadows; on a purely heritage basis, we have lost 99% of our flower-rich hay meadows in Wales in the last 60 years. In conservation terms the knock on effect is a massive decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops and gardens. There is an effect on water quality too; low intensity grassland management is good for soil structure and does not result in nutrients being washed out of the soil into water courses, and in the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.
And then there’s people…visitors enjoy meadows, and meadow wildlife, and there’s a huge benefit to education, recreation and tourism in nurturing them.
So we’re looking at implementing Mike’s ideas for annual, low level maintenance – cutting grass and removing the hay in August, steering clear of feeds and herbicides, grazing in the autumn where possible (though perhaps not in the Shrub Borders and car park!), monitoring the wildlife species present, mechanically removing invasive species such as bracken, thistles, docks and nettles – and just as importantly, extending access so people can enjoy these areas.
Mike says: “On a summer’s day in the Old Park…bees and butterflies flit among the flower heads searching for nectar and when you sit in the grass in the warm sunshine many species of insect can be found crawling, jumping and flying amongst the foliage. Swallows and swifts fly after insects overhead and in the evening bats and owls emerge.”
When you put it like that, what more reason do we need to look after our grasslands?