What is the scythe? This ancient farming skill is making a comeback in Britain

Could a long-lost rural skill be a cut above when it comes to working on wildflower meadows?

Fans say the rhythmic elements of scything mirror yoga and tai chi, promoting mindfulness, better breathing and good sleep, while reconnecting with nature.

Replacing noisy, fuel-hungry machinery with a simple blade must also be a win for wildlife, giving insects and large animals the ability to move away during mowing.

Eager to find out more, I signed up for a day-long scything session last month with Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in the UK.

Why is scything making a comeback in the UK?

The centuries-old practice has fallen out of favor in Britain. But the trust undertakes a three-year project, invests in fakes, recruits volunteers and identifies meadows that are difficult to reach with machinery or require a different approach to protect their biodiversity.

It is important to keep the grasslands managed so that the dominant species do not smother the others.

“These islands enjoy one of the best grass growing climates in the world, so grassland management has always been a necessary activity – whether for feed the cattle during the winter for haymaking, or to keep the upper hand on lawns and roadside weeds,” explains the Scythian Association of Great Britain and Ireland.

“Scythes are again being used in public parks and gardens, wildlife sanctuaries, stately homes, attributions and grasslands in all these islands. The sickle revival is flourishing, not least because of its health benefits – fresh air and exercisethe quiet enjoyment of nature and the sense of satisfaction that comes from a real job well done.”

While the sickle is still the order of the day in some European countries, those leading Britain’s harvest revival have turned to our continental comrades in Austria, Romania and the Pyrenees to relearn this lost know-how.

Preparing to mow

Shearing maestro Richard Brown, president of the Scythe Association, is on hand to teach us everything he’s learned since being bitten by the blade bug 15 years ago.

He started mowing after researching the best way to handle the wild flower meadows that he helped to create as part of his profession as a seed expert.

I admit I was skeptical that we would need six hours to learn how to mow. But I soon discovered that just picking up a tool and throwing it around isn’t enough.

First, we had to assemble the equipment. In the past, scythes were tailor-made for an individual, which is why it’s usually impossible to try to mow with a rusty old tool from the era unless you have the exact same measurements as the person you’re looking at. it has been done. .

Instead, modern clippers tend to use a lightweight Austrian scythe, which looks a bit like the Ikea flatpack version of the tool. The two handles on the handle (called snath) can be adjusted for height and arm span so you get the perfect angle for standing while swinging. Posture is the key to successful mowing.

What’s the trick to mowing?

Once we were ready to try, Richard led exercises inspired by tai chi, shifting our weight from one foot to the other and thinking about how to use our whole body to achieve maximum effect with minimum effort. .

Standing in a circle, listening to all the sounds of nature around us and being one with the world, it was easy to see why the scythe is said to improve well-being, in addition to being a practical skill.

Once we’re out on the field, I don’t have much time to get into the zen zone because I’m so busy trying to put everything we’ve learned into practice. It’s surprisingly difficult to take small steps and try to cut just a few inches of grass at a time.

But I can see how once you’ve mastered the arc shot, mowing in the sun, watching the insect life in the vegetation and surrounded by others quietly doing the same thing is a calming and rewarding activity.

I get tired and sweaty quickly and my muscles hurt. Glad we were told to bring gloves to avoid blisters, wear loose clothing to stay cool, and don a hat to provide shade.

Every few minutes I have to stop to sharpen my blade with the whetstone hanging from my hip. This shaped piece of stone sits in a case half filled with water and is used to sharpen the steel blade so it can continue to slice effectively.

Much like the scythe itself, sharpening the blade is a skill that takes some time to master. Watching Richard deftly return a blade to its best in moments stands in stark contrast to my slow, steady efforts, making sure to keep my fingers in a safe position.

Are there any downsides to scything?

Of course, any bladed tool can be dangerous if used improperly. We are taught to store, transport and work on our scythe to ensure our safety and that of others around us.

And while it’s nice to be immersed in nature, there can be too much of a good thing. None of us want to get ticks after standing in tall grass all day, so we are warned to do a good job of self-control at home and ideally wear long-sleeved and leg-length clothing to stay covered during the work.

There is also the question of what to do with the grass clippings. It can be used as hay for animals, but drying, baling and moving it takes time, so sometimes it’s just left in a pile for mulch in the ground.

Reap the benefits

Some of my fellow beginner mowers are so excited about our new skill that they decide to buy a scythe to take home.

One of them even clubbed together with his neighbors to buy land to protect it from development and he wants to stop using machines to mow it.

A basic scythe with a blade and whetstone costs around £120 (€139), but there are more advanced kits for those who need to reshape their blade, known as grit blasting.

While I may not be investing in my own scythe yet, I certainly feel evangelical about the benefits to be gained from this time-consuming but less invasive approach to grassland management.

A few days later, a strip of wildflowers near my home is machine cut in less time than it would take me to set up my scythe. Looking at the mowed land, you will never guess the long grasses and flowers that grow there all summer long.

Maybe one day I can mow it instead and give nature the nourishment it needs.

About Keneth T. Graves

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