The fascinating world of grass…really!

Do you know your smooth from your rough meadow grass? Bodnant gardener Katie and others took part in a training day recently to learn just that… 

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Can you tell what it is yet? Barbara and Katie

Last week I had a great day out with gardeners Bill, Laura, Alex and volunteer gardener Barbara at a meadows training day at Plas Newydd, our National Trust neighbours. The training was organised by the Coronation Meadows scheme, which aims to promote, protect and increase species-rich grassland throughout the UK.

As you may know, 98% of species-rich meadows have been destroyed since 1945, mostly through intensive agricultural management for dairy and beef cattle grazing, or development. This has had a devastating effect on wildlife that is dependent on this habitat, including butterflies, moths, beetles and birds.

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The species rich meadow at Plas Newydd

Plas Newydd has an amazing example of a species-rich meadow, which includes evocative sounding species such as the Greater Butterfly Orchid, Eye-bright, Lesser Stichwort, Yellow Rattle and Shamrock. It is a designated Coronation Meadow and is also a donor site for creating new meadows.

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Our day at Plas Newydd was a training session on grass identification for meadow monitoring. Don’t yawn now – it was brilliant! Well, OK, I do realise that spending a long time crouched in a field, comparing the size and hairiness of ligules through a hand lens, in order to tell the difference between smooth meadow grass and rough meadow grass might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, a really important part of managing meadows is that you monitor what species are in it, year on year, that way you can tell if your management regime is having the desired effect, and identify any problems. And, of course, to be able to record your species, you do have to be able to tell the difference between the grasses!

So a group of us from Bodnant Garden came along to the training so that we could improve our monitoring skills, as well as support our colleagues at Plas Newydd.

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Learning the survey method…

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We spent a few hours in the morning looking at key identification characteristics in the classroom, and learning about the importance of grasses on a global scale. The rest of the day was spent in the field (literally) looking at common and important species before having a go at the surveying method that the Coronation Meadows scheme use.

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…and putting it into action in the field

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This was great fun, laying out ‘quadrats,’ scrabbling through to find all the species in there, and how often they appear, in order to capture a series of samples of the vegetation. It was a great experience and I am now much more confident in identifying grasses. You might not think it at first but the world of grasses is fascinating, and pretty addictive! Earlier this week I found myself crouched in the Old Park back at Bodnant Garden, getting very excited that I’d found a clump of Crested Dog’s Tail! Might be time for a holiday…

If you’d like to help with the management of the meadow at Plas Newydd, they are looking for volunteers to help with monitoring. Contact Helen Buckingham, wildlife and countryside advisor, at helen.buckingham@nationaltrust.org.uk

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The Old Park meadow at Bodnant Garden, one of three which we are managing for wildlife

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or catch up with us on Facebook  or Twitter.

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