Ancient conservation technique that’s a cut above the rest

Ross Poldark is not the only person who champions the benefits of scything – a team of North East conservation workers has been doing the same thing.

The ancient method of grass cutting achieved national prominence when actor Aidan Turner posed for that picture, clutching a scythe and not wearing a shirt in his lead role in the first series of the BBC Sunday night hit drama Poldark.

Scything has also proved popular with team members from Durham Wildlife Trust’s Heart of Durham Project, who have working in partnership with Northumbrian Water on a number of wildlife sites in the region.

Heart of Durham Volunteers pose for a picture with volunteers from Old Durham gardens

Heart of Durham Project Officer Anne Porter said: “Scything is very much in vogue, the new light weight Austrian scythes are easy to use and it is a very conservation-friendly method of cutting grass and has proved to be effective on the grassland sites we work on.

“For community projects, such as working with the volunteers of Old Durham Gardens, scything and removing the cut grass helps to reduce fertility, which is important to increase the range of wild flowers. A greater abundance of wild flowers means increased pollinators which is good for the fruit trees in the old orchards here in the gardens. It is such a tranquil setting, using this traditional methods of grass cutting just fits. The volunteers have been using scythes on Northumbrian Water sites for four years and they really love using them, without the whine of a two stroke engine, they can chat whilst working but above all they can hear the wildlife around them.

Scythes

“Scything has other benefits, including eradicating the use of fossil fuels and saving on the cost of training as we do it in-house with volunteers training their colleagues, which means everyone can have a go whereas using conventional brush cutters only a few get trained because of the cost.”

Stuart Pudney, Conservation and Land Manager at Northumbrian Water, said: “Scything wildflower areas is a perfect way of cutting small areas of grassland, such as the wildlife areas at our two main offices in Durham; Northumbria House and Boldon House.

“Using scythes rather than strimmer’s or mowers is far quieter and is more inclusive, allowing all of the volunteers to get involved in what is a much more relaxing and enjoyable way of managing meadows.”

“Old Durham Gardens is a restored 17th century garden, so working with the Durham Wildlife Trust’s heart of Durham scythers fits in with our work in so many ways, working peacefully amongst the apple, plums and damson trees in the orchards increasing fruitfulness of the trees and using historic techniques makes for an ideal partnership” says Joy Chairwoman for the friends of Old Durham gardens.