SABI Somerset Green Scythe Workshop Report

12th -13th June 2021 Thorney Lakes, Muchelney, Somerset.
The aim of this gathering was to bring together SABI committee members, scythe event hosts and volunteers, scythe instructors and leading scythe competitors; to share their experiences and plan for future events. This workshop was restricted to 30 participants by covid necessity.

Saturday started soon after sunrise with mowing and a visit from a BBC Green Planet camera crew (of two) to film scything for their up coming new series. They mostly filmed close-ups, but we did persuade them to take some drone footage of us all mowing lined out in echelon across the field. Hopefully we will get to see some of this footage in early 2022. It is good to have the scythe get a mention in this context and the series theme of mans’ relationship with plants.

We spent most of the rest of Saturday mowing and setting out plots for the following day. It was a real treat to be able to mow freely, especially as the grass was really nice to mow – probably the best ever on this site, as you will see from some of the times achieved in 5 x 5s on Sunday.

At the end of the afternoon we met up for a SABI committee meeting and scythe discussions. As we could not hold an open meeting for covid reasons we could not hold a full AGM, but were able to discuss SABI business face to face for the first time for 18 months. The minutes of this meeting will be carried forward to an open AGM to be held via Zoom in the coming weeks. (date tbc).

Sunday up early again to take advantage of the cool conditions and complete mowing around the competition plots.

After breakfast we had a workshop meeting to share experiences of scythe teaching. The meeting included experienced instructors like myself and Andi Ricard, as well as newer instructors and team leaders from community groups and wildlife trust. A useful discussion was had. This session ended with a demonstration by Colin Close of his Peening machine (details of which have been featured in Windrow).

Sunday Afternoon was set aside for some competitive scything. We could not run the full championship with less than one third of the usual number of competitors able to be present. This, and unlimited grass, did however enable us to achieve the workshop objective of trying out some different competition formats , and to do so in a friendly relaxed way (but still competitive as always!) without the pressure of the full Green Scythe Fair event and its thousands of visitors.

Team Events

For the team events we tried out a different format whereby all competitors in all teams started mowing together at the start, rather than in a staggered start relay as usual.

  • Each team had a 2m x 40m long strip to mow. These lanes were arranged in parallel with a 2m path between each. 80m2 in each lane.
  • We had the same teams of four mowers (three teams)
  • Teams were pre-selected (by me) using results from qualifying heats (in this case past years’ heats and 5 x 5 plots, where data was available, as we did not run heats). The teams were balanced as far as possible so that the sum of their potential distance mowed over a minute was as numerically equal as possible across teams (roughly works out as: one champion speed mower , one competent mower, one novice and at least one of each gender).
  • The teams are randomly assigned a lane each to mow.
  • The teams must then arrange themselves spaced out along the length of the plot.
  • The mower at the start of the lane will mow from that end. The other three mowers will cut in and turn from the side of the lane from their chosen starting positions.
  • All mowers start mowing at the same time and continue to mow until they reach the end of their section (the starting position of the mower in front, or the end of the lane). Mowers cannot change places or help mow another’s section if they finish first.
  • The distance between each mower does not need to be equal (10m each) but should be assigned by the team themselves as to the distance each mower is likely to manage in the same time. A short period of time is allowed for this. If a team gets themselves perfectly arranged then they should all start and finish simultaneously. The champion mowers will have mown the most, and novices a much shorter contribution over the same time. This will deliver the optimum time for the team of mixed ability.
  • The time is recorded for each team when all four have raised their hands and their lane is completely mown.

The potential advantages of this approach

  • It is quick – no waiting to start -no delayed finishing: with an average of 20m2 per mower a bit quicker than a average 5 x 5m time to complete.
  • A more dramatic full action mass mow spectacle for onlookers
  • A more obvious linear race from the side
  • Each mower gets to contribute equally in time and effort. Each mower competes within their own capabilities and without interruption of flow, or pressure coming up from behind – no stop starting
  • No need for marshals to monitor the start for each mower,
  • No chance of catching the mower in front and the associated safety issues and blade clashes that can happen in a side-by side relay.
  • One set of time keepers was able to manage and record all three races simultaneously.
  • Teams should be more equally matched
  • Pre- selection to some degree takes away the usual problems of trying to get teams to form themselves and sign up

Points for further consideration

  • Balancing the team relies on having representative individual results from heats or past competitions. In our trial we had some unknown competitors I had to guesstimate performance for. We also had some last minute substitutions which threw the maths. Also, confident mowers have also been known to mow a comfortable qualifying distance in heats rather than show their full potential.
  • Someone, or a small group of adjudicators, have to be given a mandate to decide the teams, and change them if needed even last minute
  • On Quality, teams could potentially raise a protest about opposing teams they felt had cheated with deliberately poor mowing, and a time penalty applied. Quality was not a factor in our competition as the standard was generally good.

Fastest time 2min 34 secs: a West Country Team of Kevin Austin, Simon Fairlie, Adrian Thomas and Camilo from Monkton. Camilo was a newcomer who turned out to be pretty good (see individual results) so I underestimated his potential in my preselection team balancing calculations.

Second fastest 4min 3 secs: Terry Standen, Jim McVittie, Danny Hodgson and Ida Fabrizio. With Jim’s unerring scientific approach this team perfectly allocated their team who as a result finished within seconds of each other with an optimum team time.

Third 5 mins 21 secs: Richard Brown, Neil Gemmel, Mark Schofield and Jasmine from Monkton. Initially a 3 man team mowing 30m lane with one newcomer (Mark). Jasmine was a last second addition so had to mow the extra 10m with no time to reapportion some to stronger mowers.

Fourth 6 mins 41 secs: Andi Ricard, Shane O’Reilly, Mary Ellis and Colin Close.

Individual 5 x 5m Sprints

With the reduced number of competitors and unlimited grass we opted to give each competitor the option to mow more than one 5 x 5 m plot.

One plot would be mown with their regular competition blade. Extra plots could be mown using a different or unfamiliar scythe or configuration: switching from Austrian to English snath, or a Right handed for Left handed set up – for novelty and for comparison.

The results of all plots mown are given below ranked (by me) in order (speed with penalties for lower quality finishes). Mowers appear more than once in the list. Quality was judged in the field after the competition by time keepers and non-competitors Jayne and Helene.

Time m:sQualityScythe
Andi Rickard01:219Austrian 110
Kevin Austin01:158.5Austrian 110
Richard Brown01:499Austrian 110
Terry Standing02:059English
Richard Brown02:149Austrian 75
Camilo Monkton*02:158.5Austrian RH
Camilo Monkton*02:558.5Austrian LH
Neil Gemmel01:515.5Romanian snath
Adrian Thomas02:135.5Austrian
Terry Standen03:328.5Scottish
Kevin Austin02:085English
Jim McVittie03:297.5Scottish
Andi Rickard03:458Austrian LH
Shane O’Reilly03:056Austrian
Mark Schofield03:597A ditch 2nd
Neil Gemmel03:085Austrian
Jim McVittie04:236.5English
Colin Close05:478.5Austrian
Mark Schofield05:357.5A ditch 1st
Richard Brown05:588English
Danny Hodgson 03:525Austrian
Ida Fabrizio06:007.5Austrian
Danny Hodgson 06:096.5English
Mary Ellis06:506.5Austrian
Jasmin Monkton*08:067Austrian 75
Jasmin Monkton*06:245.5Austrian ditch
*from Monkton

With only six seconds and half a quality point separating Andi and Kevin at the top, it was very close to a draw for first place overall. Andi just retains her ranking as the number one as she is the default West Country Champion and cup holder from the last full competition held in 2019, and also Kevin was seen ‘clearing’ his plot with his blade after his sprint (ooooh!) by the not completely unbiased judge of ranking (me).

Andi Ricard mowing in practice

Terry had the best ranked result with an English snath with which he also managed a quality score of 9 to strike a blow for his campaign for real [English] scythes!

Andi and Richard also had top quality scores of 9, with Andi combining this with her faster time had the best quality result overall. The seven top results all scored 8.5 or 9 for quality.

The outstanding newcomer to scythe competition was Camilo: a ‘dark horse’ slipped in to the event by Mr Fairlie as his stand-in from Monkton. For a first time out he delivered a remarkably high quality score and speed. I noticed him myself out of the corner of my eye as we both got close to finishing our adjacent plots and put a spurt on just managing to beat him by just one second! Camilo also dextrously managed to score highly in his second plot using a left handed set up. One to watch when we get back to full competitions again!

Most others mowers dropped down the table when using an unfamiliar set up; as did Andi, Kevin, myself, Jim and Danny switching to English snaths. Mark and Neil improved their result with their second attempts. Jasmine tried a 75cm blade to compare with the ditch blade she was more familiar with. She got a better quality with the 75 blade but was slower.

At the end of the competition Andi let me try her championship 110cm Austrian blade. It felt so amazing and perfectly balanced she very kindly let me go on mow my third 5 x 5m plot with it. I got Andi to hone it for me in case I altered the bevel slightly, I didn’t want to damage it! I had already scored a personal best time for me in Somerset with my old favourite 75cm Profisense at 2m 14secs. I smashed this time to under 2 minutes with Andi’s 110cm with no loss of control or quality, it was awesome, I surprised myself.

This did then necessitate a longer than my usual collapse, with Andi commenting ” I think I have broken Richard”. Andi has been trying for years to persuade me out of my 75 comfort zone to use a longer blade – this just proved her right!

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