Join the patter of Paws on the Great Orme

Attention dog walkers! We know you love our summer #WagWednesdays here at Bodnant Garden, and you’ll soon be able to explore another National Trust beauty spot nearby on the Great Orme.

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Parc Farm shepherd Dan Jones 

We’re co-hosting a dog fun day at Parc Farm, part of the famous Llandudno landmark which National Trust bought for the nation in 2015, to celebrate the opening of new public footpaths.

Paws on the Great Orme on Sunday, June 18, features fun dog shows and demonstrations and storytelling for families. It’s also a chance for visitors to look around Parc Farm and learn about the special farming and conservation work being done there by National Trust Wales and our partner organisation Plantlife – as well as the work of Conwy County Borough Council and PONT Cymru on the wider headland.

William Greenwood, property manager for Bodnant Garden and Parc Farm, says:  “Parc Farm is a breathtaking beauty spot and it’s great to be able to share it with walkers, and their dogs. Come and enioy this stunning area and see the work we’re doing to protect it for future generations of people and wildlife.”

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Farmer Dan at work with his dog Tian

Perched on top of the Great Orme headland, the 145-acre Parc Farm enjoys far-reaching views of Snowdonia and the Irish Sea and is home to rare and special wildlife found nowhere else on earth. It is being farmed in traditional way for the National Trust by tenant farmer Dan Jones who is practising close-shepherding to encourage the rare species found there. Dan’s flock of Llyn and Herdwick sheep have been provided by charity Plantlife, which is supporting the conservation work there.

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Dogs on short leads please! Ranger Doug with his buddy at Parc Farm

Our National Trust ranger Doug Don and his volunteers have also been busy creating two new footpaths from the Great Orme summit past Parc Farm. It will be the first time the public have had access to this area since the farm was enclosed in 1875.

Dogs on short leads will be welcomed from June until December.  Over winter and spring they will be closed to reduce disturbance to sheep during lambing and to allow the Great Orme’s protected birds, the Chough, to feed their young.

Doug says: “We’re really pleased to be able to welcome visitors to parts of Parc Farm after such a long time. It will be seasonal, to balance access with the needs of farming and nature conservation, and we’ll be monitoring the effect on wildlife.

“But we hope people will come and enjoy it. All we ask is that walkers stick to the waymarked paths, keep dogs on a short lead, clear up after their pets and follow the signage and notices. All restrictions and closures will be clearly posted.”

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Do not disturb…footpaths will be closed at certain times of year to protect sheep and other wildlife

Paws on the Great Orme takes place at Parc Farm starting at 11am (some parking is available on the summit, from where the two new footpaths begin.) There will be a fun dog show at 12.30 plus dog obedience demonstrations at 11.30am and 2.15pm by Valley dog Training, and sheep dog demonstrations at 12 noon and 2.45pm by shepherd Dan Jones. Visitors can also have a go at mini agility with Valley Dog Training and talk to members of Butterfly Conservation, RSPCA, Guide Dogs Cymru, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Conwy County Borough Council who will be at the event. Refreshments will be provided by Bodnant Garden’s catering team.

To find out more contact our National Trust office on 01492 650460.

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Jewels of July at Bodnant Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASummer at Bodnant Garden means roses, water lilies and formal beds and borders …and now, for the first time, wildflowers. We’ve created a mini-meadow next to the Pin Mill and it’s been a real success, with visitors and with butterflies, bees and dragonflies. The long border is being renovated and the idea was to sow a wildflower mix to create a summer display while we plan a new design. By popular request, we may be doing it again at other places around the garden in future.

Elsewhere, the garden is looking splendid is all its summer glory, from the rose-tinted formality of the Terraces to the drama of The Dell with it’s swathes of blue hydrangeas and the lakeside tranquiltiy of the Far End. Here’s a little tour in pictures:

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Hot colours in The Range border

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Calceolaria integrifolia (left) alliums and campanula on the Top Lawn

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Dierama pulcherrimum (Angel’s Fishing Rod) on the Terraces

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Water lilies and roses, roses, roses…

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Also causing a stir on the rose terraces, Lilium regale

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Shrubs and perennials mingle in the shade of the Shrub Borders

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Lilium martagon and Hemerocalis lilioasphodelus  

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Sprawling Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (left) and Desmodium elegans

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Lovely all in white, the Poem beds

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Blue hydrangeas and Cardiocrum giganteum in The Dell

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Astilbe and campanula light up the shade

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You’ll even find a late flowering Rhododendron ‘Argosy’

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Lush lakeside in the Far End...you may spot an otter

Back to the upper the garden, and the subject of meadows…as well as out little ‘experiment’ at the Pin Mill we’re developing three wildflower meadows. The Old Park is already open to the public and we’re hoping to open Cae Poeth and Furnace meadows in the next few years. When last surveyed we identified 26 species of wildflowers in The Old Park. Come along and have a look for yourself; sit and enjoy the birds, butterflies and bees, even have a picnic. After your grand your of the garden, what nicer way to relax on a summer’s day?

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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.

 

 

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.

Plant a snowdrop for posterity

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Our Old Park meadow is carpeted with snowdrops right now and with a little help from visitors there will soon be 15,000 more. From February 14 to 22 we’re inviting people to join gardeners and volunteers in a mass planting for posterity.

The Old Park is a rolling open meadow landscaped with native oak and beech trees, thought to be the oldest part of the original garden dating back to the Georgian era. Only opened to the public in 2013, it is now being managed as a wildlife meadow – the display of snowdrops are followed by swathes of daffodils in the spring and wildflowers in the summer.

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Gardeners and volunteers have been planting snowdrops in the meadow for the last five years to ensure a bigger and better display in future.

This time of year it is traditional to plant snowdrops ‘in the green’ (at the end of flowering but when the leaves are still green). Visitors can drop by through the week and lend a hand at any time from 11am to 1pm. All plants and tools are provided, just bring are sturdy clothes and footwear.

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All are welcome to drop by and join in with the planting, whether for five minutes or an hour – the more the merrier! It’s also a chance to have a look around our Winter Garden, now in its third year and positively blooming. In fact the whole garden is showing signs of spring and it’s a wonderful time to visit.

There are also events for families in the garden during half term, with a craft workshop in The Old Mill on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, February 16-18, 11am to 1pm. Don’t forget you can bring dogs too on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the end of February.

No booking is required and there is no extra charge for the snowdrop planting or craft workshop (normal garden admission prices apply), but for information contact Bodnant Garden on 01492 650460.

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Scything…sorting the wheat from the chaff

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 What does the word scything conjure up to you? Pleasant Constable-style images of haymakers in sunlit fields…or blood, sweat, tears and severed limbs?! Well gardeners and visitors were invited to set aside their preconceptions and try their hands at this old art of grass cutting recently, as part of a two day workshop with Sion Jinkinson, woodland contractor for the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

  Sion is increasingly busy running scything workshops these days – he has been fully booked this year – and also does scything for local authorities and other groups who want small areas of grassland managed quietly, non-invasively and in an environmentally-friendly way. It’s clearly a growing trend.

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Sion with gardener Laura; gardener Katie in the swing of things

  We thought we’d give it a go as part of Bodnant Garden’s grassland management project, which has been funded by Natural Resources Wales. Along with other National Trust properties in Wales we are doing our bit to maintain and develop species-rich meadows, of which 99% have been lost in Wales in the last 60 years.

  At Bodnant, we are now practising traditional, low level maintenance on our meadows at Cae Poeth, Furnace Field and Old Park – cutting grass and removing the hay in August, avoiding feeds and herbicides, mechanically removing bracken, thistles, docks and nettles, grazing in the autumn…and trying out some other methods like scything.

 Sion gave us an introductory talk and demonstration of how to set up, sharpen, operate and dismantle the scythe (and some vital health and safety tips) then we were placed in a row across the meadow at a safe distance from each other, and we were off.

 Thankfully the weather was kind and the whole experience was pleasantly surprising. I found scything not as physically hard as I expected – the new Austrian scythes are light and, with regular sharpening, slice through grass easily without too much back breaking effort. It was a revelation to see how much ground was covered so quickly. In fact I had none of the expected lower lumbar twinges during the day or afterwards (though curiously aching forearms…perhaps I had been giving it too much welly?)

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Sion giving a demo and yours truly (Fran) giving it some welly

  That’s not to say it wasn’t an effort, but going at a steady pace it didn’t feel like being part of a hay-making chain gang. Stopping every few minutes to sharpen the blade was an opportunity to admire the summer landscape, exchange words with a neighbour, watch a blue butterfly, and at the end of the day it was pleasing to look across a freshly mown meadow and think ‘we did that’. There were satisfied smiles from our gang of scythers and no severed limbs – though one or two people did report minor aches and pains the next day, in a range of bizarre places. Clearly scything gets to the parts other methods of grass cutting don’t.

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  A well oiled machine, without the machinery!

  Strimming can be hard work too – it’s not all win-win with machinery. The professional cutters are heavy and cumbersome, noisy and headache-inducing and the necessity of helmets, visors, goggles and harness make it hard going in hot weather. Even with head gear, unless you are wearing a polo neck and balaclava you get hit on the chin, neck and arms by flying debris – it’s amazing how much a seed head against bare skin can sting when shot at speed from the metal blades of a brush cutter!

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Gardener David in the obligatory Grim reaper pose

  The environmental benefits of not using machinery are obvious – less fuel and noise pollution (although apparently in the past some lords and ladies did complain about the swish of scythers mowing the grass in front of their stately homes!) It’s horses for courses I guess. There are situations when only a tractor mounted machine, mechanical cutter or strimmer will do, but maybe there is a place for the good old fashioned scythe. If you’ve got an orchard or small holding it’s certainly a cheap and easy way to keep the grass down. Whether it will take on at Bodnant Garden…the jury is out but watch this space.

  If you want to find out more you contact Sion Jinkinson at sion@campfirecymru.org.uk  You can also get a taste of our sycthing days on this video Tai Chi with A Blade bit.ly/1qpp9y9

For more details about Bodnant Garden call 01492 650460, check out our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT

Rediscover the bygone skill of scything

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  The old art of scything is making a comeback and there’s chance to see this traditional skill in action at Bodnant Garden – and even have a go at swinging a scythe yourself.

  We’re running two scything workshops on August 18 and 19 when visitors can join staff learning about this long-lost method of grass cutting. Gardener Laura Jones says: “Scything is undergoing a renaissance. It’s an environmentally-friendly means of cutting grass – and it’s much quieter than your average mower! For wild grass areas and patches of meadow it’s a real alternative.”

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  The sight of men and women out in the fields harvesting the old fashioned way was a familiar sight for hundreds of years. In the 20th century the scythe was replaced by mowers and strimmers but these days local authorities, stately homes and even domestic gardeners are picking up the traditional tool again as a zero-carbon alternative to managing weeds and grass.

  The scythe is designed for cutting vegetation at ground level, both for cutting both meadow grass and for harvesting oats, barley and other grains. There’s evidence that it has been around since the Romans, but it became the tool of choice in Britain from the 1700s when industrialisation made the scythe easier to manufacture. It replaced the sickle and apparently caused widespread outrage among working women, who were deemed too dainty to wield the larger implement – they were ousted from harvesting and relegated to lower paid work picking up crops behind the men folk.

  Traditional English scythes were produced in England until the mid-1900s, particularly in Sheffield,  but sadly the industry is no more. They have been replaced by the newer continental or Austrian scythes which are hand forged, thinner, lighter and easier to use and maintain – which has contributed to the rise in scything’s popularity.

 July_13_050Sion Jinkinson (right) and a group of learner scythers 

  Our scything workshops will be run by Sion Jinkinson, woodland contractor for the North Wales Wildlife Trust and an instructor with the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland. He says: “There’s definitely been a big rise in interest in scything in recent years. We taught 100 people to scythe last year in North Wales.

  “Some people come along just for the fun of learning. Some people want to use the scythe at home – maybe they have an orchard and don’t want to strim near trees, or maybe they have an acre of land to manage and no tractor. Grass has to be cut or it turns to scrub, and scything can be a good solution in some situations. We also do work for organisations like Denbighshire Countryside Service, who may want an area cut without the noise and disturbance of strimmers.

  “With the new, lighter Austrian scythes it’s something most people can master. I teach all ages and abilities – I’ve had a little girl of six and a lady of 86 on my courses – the elderly lady remembered, as a girl, watching locals scything the land. It’s good to keep this traditional skill alive, and of course it also has benefits for the environment.”

Volunteer sharpening a scythe whilst clearing bracken on a National Trust Working Holiday at Bosigran Farm, Cornwall

  We’re running the courses as part of Bodnant Garden’s grassland management project, which has been funded by Natural Resources Wales for the last two years.

  Along with other National Trust properties in Wales we are doing our bit to maintain and develop species-rich meadows. We have lost around 99% of our hay meadows in Wales in the last 60 years – the knock on effect is a decline in butterflies and bees, which has big implications for the pollination of our crops. 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.

  At Bodnant, gardeners are practising traditional, low level maintenance on meadows at Cae Poeth, Furnace Field and Old Park – cutting grass and removing the hay in August, avoiding feeds and herbicides, mechanically removing bracken, thistles, docks and nettles, grazing in the autumn where possible – and just as importantly, inviting people to enjoy these areas.

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Sowing Yellow Rattle is just one of the things we’re doing to improve our meadows – it reduces the soil fertility, allowing wild flowers to thrive

  Laura says: “Scything benefits the environment; there’s no fuel used in the manufacture or use of scythes, there’s less disturbance of soil, it leaves a cleaner finish than strimming and is kinder to wildlife as the user can avoid creatures in the grass.

  “For the user it’s cleaner, quieter, there’s no vibration or risk of flying stones, there’s more control and the tools can be used in almost any weather. It’s cheaper too as one scythe can last a lifetime – it can also be a relaxing thing to do once you’ve got the technique right!”

   “We probably won’t be using scythes on the formal lawns…but we’re keen to find out whether we can use them here on our meadows. It’s also just a great skill to learn and we hope visitors will enjoy it too – and maybe go away and try it in their own plots.”

  Bodnant Garden scything days will take place on August 18th (for staff) and August 19th (for visitors). There is no cost but places are limited to ten per day so booking is essential on 01492 650460. Garden visitors are welcome to come along and watch on both days.

  For more information about Bodnant Garden’s grassland management, or tips for your own mini-meadow, see our video at bit.ly/1z7MWcm

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When is a field not just a field?

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  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.

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The Old Park in spring.

 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. 

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Cae Poeth field

  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.

meadow5  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?

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Furnace Field in summer. All of these great pictures were kindly provided by Mike Alexander – thanks Mike!

  See our website www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodnant-garden or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BodnantGardenNT for more about Bodnant Garden.