1 Jul 2024

Botanic Garden in Bloom: A Stroll Through the Hay Meadows

Ellyn Baker

At the Garden we have 40 acres of hay meadows, which we are celebrating today as part of Wales Nature Week.

May to July is the perfect time of year to take a stroll through the flower-rich meadows, which are full of a variety of orchids, Buttercups, Yellow-rattle, Eyebright, Cat’s Ears and Betony. The display of orchids is particularly spectacular in Cae Trawscoed, where you can see Greater Butterfly, Southern Marsh, Common Spotted and Heath Spotted Orchids.

Over the last century we have lost more than 97% of meadows in Wales and England, leading to a decline in plant diversity. A key factor in this plant diversity is the low nutrient levels in the soil maintained by cutting and collecting the grass at the end of the season and not applying any fertiliser.

With a growing movement towards restoring these amazing habitats, the Botanic Garden acts as a source of Welsh-provenance seed and green hay to help local organisations and landowners restore their grasslands and increase plant diversity.

Once the majority of plants in the meadows have finished flowering and gone to seed, a brush harvester is used to collect the seed, which is then dried, sieved and packaged to be sold. Another method of restoring species-rich meadows is to take the fresh hay cut (green hay) and spread it directly onto neighbouring fields for the seed to drop down. We spread green hay on Cae Gwair to improve species diversity, which has worked a treat – you can see this for yourself if you follow the orange route through the nature reserve.

One key species to introduce is Yellow-rattle, which is hemiparasitic on grasses. By reducing the grass growth, different herbaceous species can then compete and grow to create a more diverse plant community. Having a successful and diverse hay meadow requires management which is why we cut the meadows every autumn, and allow some light grazing by cattle.

Brush Harvester in Cae Gwair, August 2021

The National Botanic Garden of Wales is supported by Welsh Government’s Nature Networks Fund, funding work to deliver infrastructure improvements on Waun Las NNR, allowing us to manage the site for improved biodiversity and engage with visitors on our natural heritage.