As the Scything Weekend at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge, approaches (26th-27th June) Jane Osbourne reports on a successful champtionship day.

Record crowds gathered on Sunday 13th June to watch the heats of the UK’s National Scything Championships, held at Thorney Lakes on the Somerset Levels near Langport. This event is held every year on the second weekend of June when the grassland is at its most verdant. The Green Scythe Fair and its scything organiser Simon Fairlie are in the forefront of the resurgence of interest in scything as a sport – agriculture’s answer to snowboarding!

Reigning men’s champion Simon Damant, 48 of Cambridgeshire and women’s champion Mary Durling from South Somerset were on hand to defend their titles.

Simon had been kicked by a heavy horse whilst working at Wimpole Hall, Royston, the National Trust property where he is the estate manager, the previous week and there were concerns that he would not be fit enough to take part. This may have contributed to the extra 5 seconds on his time this year. But nevertheless Simon cut a 5 x 5 metre square of grass in 1.15 minutes with a quality of cut mark of 9.0, scything his way to victory for the fourth year in a row to become the fastest male lawnmower in the British Isles.

Second in the men’s championship was Andy Coleman from Bridgwater Somerset, at 2.03 minutes, quality of cut 7.5. He was very closely followed by Dennis Shannon from Wexford, Southern Ireland at 2.02 minutes. Dennis was only relegated to third place because the quality of his cut was judged to be 7.0, that is 0.5 lower than that of Andy Coleman; heartbreaking for Dennis. He and his Irish team were also competitors in the four man scything team heats.

Women’s champion Mary Durling was unexpectedly overtaken by a complete newcomer - Andrea Rickard from Hinckley Point, West Somerset. Andrea had only come for lessons but organiser Simon Fairlie soon realised she might become a serious contender. In 2009 Mary Durling’s winning time was 3 minutes 28 seconds. Andrea steamed home in 2 minutes 32 seconds with a quality mark of 6.0, taking almost a whole minute - 56 seconds off the UK women’s record to become the 2010 women’s champion.

In the other heats John Letch from Oxford notched up 9.5 for his cut and received the Quality cup. The Fast but Crap cup was won by Mark Allery of Lynchmere, West Sussex at 1.23 minutes. Veteran scyther was again Henry Best from Ilminster, Somerset at 4.54 minutes. Best newcomer was Will Foss from Norfolk at 2.05 minutes with a quality cut mark of 7.0. A new category this year was “English scythe” – a draw between Mike Ingram of Dartmouth, Devon with a time of 6.38 minutes and quality mark of 8.0 and John Fenn with a faster time of 2.22 but a lower quality mark of 3.0 for cut.

All the scythers except those in the “English scythe” category were using lightweight Austrian scythes which are lighter and considered to be more ergonomic. Blades intended for mowing grass only are usually 60 to 70 cm in length but specialist competitors blades can be up to 135 cm in length and 55 cm wide.

The children had a fantastic time throwing the cut grass at one another as the scythers gradually moved across the field. With thatching, blacksmithing and lime-plastering demonstrations, music, cider and real ale drinking and sunshine it was a wonderful day for all the participants.

On a more serious note Tara Garnett co-ordinator of Food Climate Research Network, biofuels expert Peter Harper of the Centre of Alternative Technology, Wales and Dr. Mark Fisher from West Yorkshire, consultant permaculturalist and authority on rain forests and biodiversity began their discussions at midday in the main marquee. They spoke with great passion of the need to completely rethink our global agricultural policy during the debate on Future land Use: Food, Fuel or Flood? and parried some very thought provoking questions from the their listeners.

The rain was kept at bay until the the early evening when, although the heavens opened, the crowds were rewarded with the most spectacular 180 degree rainbows. As the sun sank pied piper Tim Hill of Thrive Somerset, playing his saxophone, led children and adults alike round the site holding an enormous silver moon lantern and pyramid lanterns aloft which the children had spent all day making out of withies and paper mache in the Bridgwater Arts Tent. Everyone agreed that, as in previous years, the Green Scythe Fair had been a great success and was, in these troubled times, a very uplifting and much needed joyful event.