Having a field day at Bodnant Garden

July is meadows month when, up and down the land, we celebrate this precious native habitat.

Plas newydd-3Here at Bodnant Garden we’re inviting visitors to enjoy our own meadows at their swaying, summer peak, swishing with the sound of Yellow Rattle seed-heads and buzzing with insects. We recently welcomed local school children – our events and engagement officer Charlie led the pupils of Ysgol Eglwysbach on a perfect, sunny nature trail around Furnace Meadow, newly opened to the public this year.

Our gardeners have been out exploring too, recently joining colleagues on a meadow study day looking at the conservation work done by National Trust Wales at Moss Farm near Ysbyty Ifan – and coming back buzzing with inspiration for our own grassy acres.

The traditional native meadow is an endangered species in Britain today so this restored plot at Moss Farm (seen below, on a somewhat damper day) is a precious example of what we’ve lost in the landscape… and what can yet be put back.

19665302_10155547334699214_813117273265426706_n

The meadow has been restored in partnership with conservation group Plantlife, which has spearheaded the Coronation Meadows project. This initiative aims to create a ‘model’ meadow in every county in the UK, harvesting seed from these wildflower-rich donor meadows which is distributed to other local meadows-in-the-making.

Moss Farm is one such Coronation Meadow and wildflower seed from here has been donated to other local sites in Gwynedd and the Conwy Valley – including a field belonging to Plantlife’s own botanist Trevor Dines, near Bodnant Garden.

IMG_6532Bodnant gardeners Hollie, Christina, Harvey with Trevor Dines of Plantlife on their field trip to Trevor’s meadow, spotting Eye Bright, Bird’s Foot Trefoil and Betany – indicators of a propsering meadow.

eyebright  birds foot 19665162_10155547334569214_6644573755328521372_n

Our garden team visited Trevor’s Farm after viewing the donor site at Moss Farm. It was a great day learning about the diversity of meadow habitats, discovering wild flowers…and impressively-horned cattle!

IMG_6508 dd5xqr8wsaah6a2.jpg

It’s inspiration for our own conservation work at Bodnant Garden, where we manage three wildflower meadows – the Old Park (opened to the public in 2012), Furnace Meadow (newly opened in 2017) and Cae Poeth Meadow (opening 2019.)  Since 2012 we’ve been working to a grassland management plan to enrich the wildlife found there with traditional, low level maintenance – a regime of mowing and removing hay in August, grazing with sheep in autumn, avoiding fertilisers and herbicides, along with sowing seed of Yellow Rattle to keep down grasses and encourage the growth of flowers. Already we’ve seen an increase in wildflowers flowers in The Old Park (seen below), including orchids.

Old Park summer

Why do it? Today in the UK there remains only 3% of the meadows which existed in the 1930s – that’s a staggering loss of 7.5 million acres of wild flower grassland.  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 use of chemicals and low intensity grassland management reduces the level of pollutants entering water sources and nutrients being washed out of the soil. In the larger scheme of things, there’s evidence the decline in grasslands may be affecting climate change too, as they store and use carbon at a higher rate than forests.

That’s why, alongside Plantlife, National Trust Wales is a leading partner in the campaign Save Our Magnificent Meadows, a Lottery funded effort to restore wildflower meadows and other grasslands.

We’re also working with Plantlife at Parc Farm, the National Trust site on the Great Orme. This limestone headland provides a very different grassland habitat to the damp meadow at Moss Farm but here, careful management can again make a world of difference to wildlife. Grazing with sheep is helping to keep grasses down and allow quite unique wildflowers to thrive (seen below, images courtesy of Plantlife.)

Join us celebrating our precious grassland heritage at Bodnant Garden, Great Orme and other National Trust Wales sites this month. You can find out more here :

IMG_6719

 

 

 

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… 

SAM_1705 - Copy

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.

Plas newydd-8

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.

Plas newydd-3

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.

SAM_1701

Learning the survey method…

SAM_1708

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.

SAM_1715

…and putting it into action in the field

SAM_1716

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

bodnant-11

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.