Fun with a scythe at Achmelvich

October 10th 2023

Fun with a scythe at Achmelvich

Assynt Field Club and the Highlife Highland Countryside Ranger Service have a partnership agreement that enables Club members to volunteer their help with small wildlife related maintenance jobs or habitat improvement works in Assynt.

Two of the more visible examples are the wildflower meadows in Lochinver at the Church of Scotland and the War Memorial.

On a much larger scale, but nothing we were previously involved in is the machair at Achmelvich. This is a great example of how a bit of discussion, several years ago, between the Achmelvich crofters and the Ranger Service paid dividends. The conversation resulted in the sheep being taken off and returned to the machair at the right times of year.

The sheep were moved off to stop them eating the newly emerging wildflowers. Later in the year, once the flowers had seeded the sheep were put back on the machair to graze. This allowed ‘us’ to appreciate the masses of flowers, and the sheep could be used to graze the area and so keep the grasses, etc. short allowing light to reach the new seeds.

In addition, and vitally, the feet of the sheep helped disturb the ground and allowed the seeds to reach bare soil.

Unfortunately, the declining number of sheep at Achmelvich, and throughout Assynt generally means this grazing-disturbance phase is not as effective as it once was. The result is a machair that is losing the wildflower spectacle and developing more of a grass and invasive plants appearance.

Of course, the wildflowers are not there simply for us to look at. They are an important food source for many insects which in turn can be food for smaller birds, and so on.

What can our volunteers do in this case?

On Wednesday 27 September 2023 we met Andy Summers, Senior Ranger at the Achmelvich carpark. The plan was to create a small trial area of scythed and raked machair to compare with the rest of the area next spring-summer.

After a thorough safety briefing and scything demonstration from Andy we spent over an hour cutting the sward and raking it up.

Scything is another one of those things that, in the right hands looks simple! You always know that it won’t be so easy when you give it a go.

Correct! It wasn’t simple or easy at first. After a few minutes you get a feel for the angle of the blade, the length of swing, the steady stance, etc. Turns out we all really enjoyed using a scythe for the first time.

Without a doubt there is something very satisfying about it and the lack of noise and fumes a strimmer would create.

All fingers, toes and legs were accounted for at the end.

David Haines

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