The art of scything has seen somewhat of a revival in the last few years.
It may look like hard work but this ancient way of mowing has a lot going for it.
For starters it is wonderfully quiet with only the sound of swishing and occasional blade sharpening to break the silence. It is also versatile and able to be used on slopes and in tricky places and of course uses no petrochemicals, only human power!
These benefits were in our mind when we first had the idea for using scythes to mow part of our Carmarthenshire reserve, Cae Blaen Dyffryn. The top of the reserve has recently become grassier which has created more competition for space. As the reserve is not usually mown (only grazed in the autumn) we felt an additional cut may give this area some breathing space and allow more room for species such as moonwort to grow (take a look at Colin’s blog for more on this).
As we also want to involve more volunteers on the reserve we decided that running scything courses at Cae Blaen Dyffryn would help us manage the unruly grass, introduce people to this wonderful meadow and also give people skills they can take away and use on their own land. Using funding from the Welsh Government to subsidise the costs, we asked Phil Batten of Scythe Cymru to run two courses for us. Here are some highlights...
Getting the right size scythe is important before getting started. Phil lined everyone up in height order before issuing the right scythe to the right person.
It’s all in the knees! Phil demonstrated the ideal stance to help sweep the scythe from side to side.
After a bit of practice it wasn’t long before our trainee scything team got to work in the meadow. Phil arranged them in a staggered line so that each person’s cuttings form neat rows which could be collected. It was exciting to watch as people started to find their own natural rhythm, gain confidence and relax into the movements.
One of the benefits of scything over machine cutting is that the process is slower and means the wild things that make their home in the meadow have time to avoid the swishing blades. During the courses, we were amazed by what we found living in the meadow. We spotted waxcap fungi, a lizard and an unidentified furry mammal that scurried off to find cover, but our favourite was this young toad which definitely had the cute factor!
As we want to create more room for wild flowers on this patch of the reserve, and not add to the nutrient levels in the soil, all the cuttings created during the courses had to be removed and taken to a far corner of the reserve to decompose. Hard work but worthwhile!
We’ve had some great feedback from those who attended the courses. Laura said, “I started scything on my land the following day. I have mown my orchard and have also found the scythe very useful to enhance a path I am cutting through my very overgrown field.”
We’ll find out next year how successful we have been in our other aim of giving wild flowers a helping hand on his part of the reserve.
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