By Simon Cooter
It’s a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have ceased to use their hands. If the craze for machinery continues, it is highly likely that a time will come when we shall be so incapacitated and weak that we shall begin to curse ourselves for having forgotten the use of the living machines given to us by God
Before the days of our dependency upon oil, all hay meadows used to be cut by scythe rather than by machine. One person generally cutting about an acre of meadow in a day. This quantity of hay can be turned and piled up into hay racks to dry. Once racked it will withstand showers and continue to dry. The hay is then transported by some means, today probably on a trailer to a hay store, where it is either built into a hay stack or put loose into a barn.
This method of hay making has a number of benefits for wildlife. Because the hay in the meadow is cut over a period of time, it lets animals move out of the way of the mowing, it allows different plants to flower and set seed and this provides nectar for insects over a longer period.
There are two types of scythe that can be acquired today: the Anglo-American scythe, which is the scythe that is probably hanging up in an old barn full of woodworm or on a themed pub wall somewhere; and the much lighter continental model that has seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years. On first comparison the obvious difference is that the Anglo-American scythe has a curved handle, or snath, whereas the continental or Austrian scythe has a straight snath. However the real differences are in the blades. Traditional English blades were either stamped or rough forged and then shaped by heavy grinding. Austrian blades are beaten out to a fine blade and are a much more precise tool. The Austrian blade being finer and sharper allows it to be used with a lighter snath. What does all this mean? Well the result is that anyone, even children, can use Austrian scythes. It makes cutting grass a pleasurable activity rather than a back breaking one and it is for this reason that the scythe is making a come back.
Volunteers and staff use scythes on the National Nature Reserve to cut bracken on the heathland and grassland. They are a lighter tool than a brushcutter, can be used on steep slopes with ease and are more environmentally friendly than herbicides.
Young bracken is surprisingly easy to cut by scythe and training is available to anyone who fancies lending a hand. Bracken management is carried out throughout the summer months. Anyone interested in helping out should contact Simon Cooter on 01743 792294.
For more information on the scything revolution see