Mowing the lawn on a Sunday took a very different turn at RSPB Bempton Cliffs recently.
Martin Stevens, from Hunmanby, is part of a group that meets up regularly to mow grassland using a scythe. And having visited the cliff top nature reserve, he thought that the meadow beyond the Seabird Centre would be the perfect place to practice cutting the ‘sward’.
It’s a hobby that began around three years ago and is linked to his passion for history and historical crafts.
‘I'm particularly interested in how people used to do things before modern technology took over. It can potentially give us some insight into what our ancestors would have had to deal with when working in the fields.’
He’s not alone. The UK has seen renewed interest in the art of scything as the ‘old ways’ fight back against modern machine-based methods of managing the land.
According to the UK’s Scythe Association, there is a revival of the tool’s use in Western Europe because of the environmental benefits. Scythe’s don’t use fuel, they’re light and portable so there are no transport costs and they don’t make a noise – so no need for ear defenders. And who wouldn’t prefer the sound of birdsong to the roar of an engine.
Scythes are also a particularly efficient method of dealing with issues that mechanical mowers struggle with such as slopes or tree-filled orchards, as well as long or wet grass.
But it is a skilled job. And the secret of successful scything is based on three things: sharpness of the blade, setting up the scythe correctly and the right technique when it comes to moving the blade to and fro.
Martin explained further:
‘The Austrian-style scythes used today need sharpening in the field about every five minutes, along with occasional peening – hammering the edge of the blade to thin the metal making it easier to keep sharp. Then it’s important to keep the blade level and low through the swing’.
And at Bempton Cliffs, the results speak for themselves.
Dave Aitken, warden at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, said:
‘The meadow is a very important habitat on the reserve. It’s home to wildflowers such as bird’s-foot-trefoil, yellow-rattle and common spotted orchids and it supports a variety of invertebrates, which in turn fuel the food chain which birds such as skylark and meadow pipit depend upon. So during the breeding and growing season we simply let the grass and wildflower communities do their thing. But at this time of year, we cut it back and remove the material. It’s wonderful that Martin and his team have done most of the hard work for us, and in such a time-honoured, traditional way.’
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