Scything Glenan Meadow

“You can’t imagine what an effectual remedy it is for every sort of foolishness,”

So ponders Levin, the protagonist of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Levin is talking about scything. This year Glenan’s beautiful meadow saw this ancient art resurrected by a small team of volunteers.

It was not possible to scythe all the meadow, but next year we hope to invite anyone from the community who would like to try their hand at scything to come along.

There has been a huge resurgence in scything in recent years as people have rediscovered how pleasurable, even meditative it is. It is also wonderful for keeping fit both physically and mentally, allows you to sing, chat or listen to the birds and grasshoppers singing.

Friends of Glenan Wood - grass cutting supervisor

From an ecological point of view, the slow rhythmic motion of scything allows you to see wildlife, give it time to move away or avoid it. In Anna Karenina, one of the farm workers is described picking up a lapwing’s egg on the end of his blade and moving it to the side, before continuing to scythe. A good scythe will last you a lifetime and there is no noise, vibration, or protective clothing. No small pieces of plastic discarded as with a strimmer and most importantly no need for fossil fuels.

Glenan’s acid grassland is full of forbes, a diversity of grasses, mosses, and fungi. Species include yellow rattle, tormentil, creeping buttercup, ribwort plantain, cat’s ear, yarrow, meadow vetchling, and heath bedstraw. A full survey will be carried out next year.

Friends of Glenan Wood - results of scything

The meadows should generally be cut once a year to prevent the more aggressive grasses and scrub from taking over. ‘Arisings’ (cuttings) are removed to strip nutrients and allow light to get to the sward. These can be collected and spread on lawns and verges to increase populations of wildflowers. The time for cutting can vary but should generally take place towards the end of summer- autumn once most of the flowers have set seed.

Friends of Glenan Wood - grass cuttings

This year the meadow will have a matrix of tall and shorter grasses. The stems of taller grasses will provide over-wintering homes for invertebrates. More tussocky patches create cover for reptiles, amphibians, and voles, which in turn create prey for owls and hawks. While the edge habitat of scrub and taller herbs grading into woodland is home to all sorts of wildlife, from insects to nesting birds.

We look forward to seeing you in the meadow!

Katherine Lowrie

P.S. Here’s an excellent video on the subject of scything by Martin Kibblewhite from south of the Border. We look forward to seeing some local experts emerging from out of the woodwork; do get in touch!