A regular topic of conversation at scythe meetings is how to engage more of the younger generation in scything, and indeed in practical rural activities generally.
It is not difficult to see why the demographic for scything is biased to more mature users. It’s a fact, for example, that active participation in voluntary conservation and wildlife trusts tends to be from more mature individuals who have spare time, with settled careers and grown up children. Typically, I find that these are the people that sign up for scythe courses.
Young people on the other hand have very busy lives with a lot of demands and pressures placed on them, not least from technology, phones and social media. As the movement sparked by Greta Thunberg showed, young people do have a strong interest in the environment and in their future. The challenge is to bring this latent spark in younger people to get them practically involved in scything.
So how do we promote scything to younger generations? I don’t think there are any quick answers to this question, but here are some of my thoughts on the topic.
Start young. Children are never to young to be introduced to the ideas of conservation, sustainable farming, tools – and yes scythes! Farm sets, books and grandparents, I would say are key tools at our disposal.
My own love of wild flowers, and cowslips in particular, was instilled in me at the age of 4 or 5 by my granny. At the summer scythe school I attended in Estonia, a significant proportion of the participants were young adults, many young women who wanted to acquire the hay making skills they say their grandmothers had (as the men were often at sea fishing or in the pub when the hay needed mowing!).
Let children do stuff, hands on with “danger” – learn to respect, handle and manage hazards (not just avoid risk).
This is recognised as a massive issue for modern children who are not allowed out the house unsupervised to play and explore. Plus, an increasing trend in our disposable society is for young households to possess no tools for making or fixing things. A few more enlightened groups and schools have invited instructors like Mary Ellis, Jez Hastings and myself to give youngsters taster sessions handling and using scythes. A lesson in practical skills, but also building respect and confidence in using sharp potentially hazardous tools. The example picture below was a have a go session at my local cub scout group whose mower had broken down and they asked for my scythe help ahead of an overnight camp.
Look for opportunities to engage young adults in scything.
I have found that have-a-go sessions for groups like young farmers (as below), or at festivals and other events attended by young families, offer potential to hook in interest. The scythe has the power to speak for itself: as Mary Ellis said in a BBC radio 4 interview “ most people, having their first go with a scythe, cannot avoid developing an involuntary smile “ …and will hopefully want to come back for more!
As we know scything is not about re-enactment of quaint rural practices, it is about using a modern tool that is as efficient and relevant as it ever was – it is a part of the future. As the late Peter Vido commented: “.. a good scythe, wielded by an accomplished mower with deep intent, can do more than just sever the stems of plants”
3 thoughts on “New generation scythers”
I am 30 years old and still like to think of myself as relatively young- certainly in scything circles! I learnt to use a English scythe as a youngster and was very proficient in its use by the time I was 14 or so. I have a scythe that I inherited from an old boy in the village. The snaith is over a hundred years old and the blade that I have been using was one that he’d fitted in the 1950s. He had kept it as a curio after it had been superseded by mechanical tools (sadly he himself was of course also rendered obsolete by the same technology). He thought I was a bit of a madman to take his old scythe with the intention of using it, but he was actually rather pleased to see it revived and in use. I’ve been using it for mowing hay on my smallholding in East Anglia but I think its final day has come. I hung it up for the last time this week and have invested in an Alpine scythe as its replacement, which I have used with success this morning. I’d like another English scythe but can’t find one (suggestions welcome!). Our first child, a son, is due in September and he will be taught to use the scythe as early as possible. P.S. In case it’s of any interest, I also have and still use three sickles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, all good blacksmith-made East Anglian blades and all going strong.
Hi Edward, good to hear from you. I suggest you come over with your scythes and sickles to join us at the scythe weekend at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge on 22nd and 23rd of June 2019. see events on this website
We will be interested to see your scythes and make suggestions about acquiring others. There is plenty of nice grass to mow, and people to mow and chat with (about scythes naturally). Bring your partner and a picnic too it is a great place for a day out. if you cant make this keep an eye out for other events and perhaps join the SABI facebook group. I am based in Norfolk near Kings Lynn myself so do quite a bit around East Anglia.
Hello Richard and Edward,
I organise the courses for adults with Suffolk Wildlife Trust and work with my colleagues who run teen courses too. I wondered if this was wondering whether there was any chance of organising some scything workshops with the Trust in Suffolk? We offer Meadow Creation and Meadow Management courses and offering a course on scything would be a perfect compliment.
Thank you for pointing me in the right direction to find someone who could help with this as I see that I have unfortunately just missed your June event.