In mid-December a few of us met to continue trials cutting reed with an Austrian scythe, and to help with the management of a local nature reserve. This was generously hosted by Richard Brown, who has a house just yards from The Saltings, a small nature reserve which he has been involved with on behalf of Heacham Parish Council.
Last year Richard and Simon Damant added a simple willow bow to the snath and timed the cutting of 25 square metres of reed bed at 3’45”. The bow was based on the traditional Norfolk bow, and similar of course to that used to harvest cereal crops. However Richard fitted an angle bracket into the ring clamp, which made the bow easy to lash to, and stay rigid in use.
Gemma Suggitt and I joined the team this year to help perfect the setup. Inspiration comes from Eric Edwards, legendary marshman at How Hill in Norfolk. I first met Eric in 1988 and tried, with little success at that time, to cut reed with his English scythe fitted with a bow, or ‘boyle’ as he called it. There is a recent YouTube video (search for ‘Eric Edwards reed cutter’) of Eric describing, amongst other marshman’s tools, the scythe with boyle, and a ‘pricker’ attached to the boyle to help gather the reed in bundles.
Richard realised that the way to attach this pricker is to make a split in the bow, into which the sharpened peg is inserted. Lashing with string holds the pricker and split bow secure. The junction of the upper nib and the snath acts as a lashing point, where the square section of the wood makes it very firm. On a home-made straight eastern European snath, lashing at this point interferes with the grip. A hole drilled through the snath a few inches below to receive the lashing cord keeps it out of the way, and this setup worked just as well as the manufactured snath.
In Richard’s film you can see how well the pricker holds a handful of cut reed upright throughout the mowing stroke. As with mowing cereals it is important to keep the reed ordered if it is going to be bundled and used. Even if it is not to be used it helps with the gathering process. It remains to be seen whether a suitably placed pricker would work also on a cereal crop.