Scything makes a comeback for Cornish wildlife

Local residents from Redruth have recently joined forces with staff from Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Cornwall Council to scythe a meadow and create space for wildlife to flourish. The Council’s Green Infrastructure for Growth team created the meadow in the open space at Trenoweth Estate in Redruth last year.

Along with a new pond, orchard trees, and hedge maintenance, these features will bring nature back into this urban green space. Additional pathways, seating, and signage will help residents and visitors to access and enjoy the wilder space.

An urban meadow can be a mini-wilderness, full of colours and scents, and crawling with critters which use the habitat to shelter, feed and build nests. Over the years they become even richer in different plant and animal species, as long as they are well managed. In a time when wild mammals would wander, they would have ‘managed’ meadows by nibbling away at the delicious range of plants on offer. This would prevent any single species becoming too dominant, allowing a wider diversity of plants to flourish.

Nowadays management of meadows often involves mowing with petrol-hungry, noisy, oily lawnmowers. But the popularity of the scythe is making a comeback, in no small part thanks to Ross Poldark’s topless antics. Before machinery was readily available, scythes were the tool of choice for meadow management, whose long, razor-sharp blade cuts quietly and effectively through grass and flower stems.

Scythes surpass mowers on many levels. They are not only quiet and fuel-free but also give resident creatures a little more time to get out of the way. Using a scythe is a meditative experience, a chance to get some fresh air, social interaction and physical exercise.

Not a mower in sight, Cormac worker trying out scything. Photo by Stuart Coleman

Not a mower in sight, Cormac worker trying out scything. Photo by Stuart Coleman

The session started with some tuition and soon the scythe newbies were clearing large areas in a single sweep. Those attending expressed their satisfaction, sweaty but smiling!

Dr. Helen Fearnley, Making Space for Nature Project, Cornwall Council said,

“It was great Cornwall Wildlife Trust shared their expertise with both CORMAC and Cornwall Council staff at a scything workshop in Redruth, to prepare some newly seeded meadow areas for winter. Not only did we all learn about and participate in the traditional method of meadow management, scything, but in the absence of power tools, we were also able to talk. Many discussions were had around how to best collaborate between the organisations to benefit wildlife and sharing of specialist knowledge and experience. It was like two workshops in one!!” 

See Cornwall Council’s Green Infrastructure for Growth page to find your nearest project and see how to get involved. Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s volunteering page gives details of a range of opportunities and the hands-on groups often carry out scything tasks to benefit wildlife. It takes time to master the art of scything, but for the sake of our meadows, wildlife, and communities it’s great to see this traditional rural skill making a return.