Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Men (and women) went to mow

Helen Baczkowska, NWT Conservation Officer

On a rainy Saturday at the end of August, a hardy group gathered at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse museum to learn how to scythe.  Far from being a tool from our rural past, scythes have, in recent years, taken the UK by storm, as they provide a practical alternative to brush cutters for cutting small areas of hay, bracken, brambles, nettles and other vegetation.  

Simon Fairlie, course tutor and scythe importer, started the day by providing a background to the Austrian scythe; this is over 60% lighter than the traditional English scythe and made from a bent ash handle (correctly called a “snath”), with a lightweight steel blade. These are still used on Alpine meadows and tradition hay fields across Europe. For the rest of the rainy morning, the group huddled in a barn learned about setting up the scythe, looking at the range of snath heights on offer and the different blades for cutting different vegetation.

Delegates on the course included apprentices from Gressenhall, the owner of a small meadow and volunteers who work on County Wildlife Sites (CWS) across Norfolk, where low-cost management is key to maintaining the wildlife value of the sites. Volunteers from Hoe Common CWS want to limit the growth of bracken and at Thwaite Common CWS, thistles need to be kept in check.  For these sites, the scythes are lighter than brush cutters, cheaper to buy and run, less smelly, easier for volunteers to handle and don’t require a certificate for insurance – there is also the attraction of just putting one over your shoulder and doing a small amount of work on a walk!

In the afternoon, the rain stopped and delegates had a chance to scythe a field and learn the arts of sharpening and “peening” – thinning the edge of the blade to keep a keener edge.  Everyone went home armed with a new scythe and impressed with their new skills!

For more information on Austrian scythes, the scythe Association of Britain and Ireland and for more courses next year, please contact Helen Baczkowska at Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

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