Our two fields now have allotments and a community orchard, but there’s still plenty of grass not covered by vegetables or fruit trees. Even the wildest wild flower meadow needs cutting once a year to stop it running to scrub and then woodland – just look at the picture of the castle hill from 1910. Where there are now trees, were then open fields and hedges, before becoming neglected.
This year we thought we would try our hands at scything, to do our bit to help revive country skills which is part of our remit, particularly as it doesn’t rely on fossil fuels to get the job done. What could be more idyllic than on a hot summers day to see a line of figures swaying rhythmically as they make their way across a field of waving grass scattered with wild flowers and butterflies!
We were extremely fortunate to receive a grant from Powys Environmental Partnerships (they helped fund the orchard planting last year) to buy some scythes and help pay for a one day scything workshop on the same day as our allotment open day. The workshop was delivered by Andrea Gilpin from Caring for God’s Acre, a charity that looks after old churchyards. A small number of dedicated people signed up for the workshops, but many more stopped to watch and listen as they were coming or going to the allotments and some joined in and had a go. The scythes used were lighter than the traditional old english designs, being based on a design from switzerland. Although scything is not effortless, with the right technique it’s not too arduous and is clearly effective, cutting the grass close to the ground. Apparently August is not the best month for making hay as much of the goodness has gone out of the grass by then and in places the grass is starting to go over and lie flat, making it harder to cut. Andrea also pointed out that in the past, haymakers would start work at five in the morning when the sward contained more moisture – before the sun would make it start to wilt – which is when scything is at its best – but I think we’ll have to do a lot of persuading to get Knucklas up at that time to mow a meadow! We also learned how to sharpen and look after the scythes – and hopefully how to use them safely, as they are absolutely razor sharp.
Many thanks to Andrea and Mark for running this event and making it so enjoyable and thanks also to Powys Environmental Partnerships for making it possible. We only cut a small part of the fields this way, but who knows, perhaps next year we’ll get up early, line up across the field and quietly make hay, while the sun shines!