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23 July 2020

Cut down to scythe: Using traditional skill to maintain Stirling landmark

A man cutting grass with a scythe in front of Stirling Castle

As historic sites across Scotland prepare to welcome visitors once again as COVID-19 restrictions ease, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has turned to the traditional skill of scything to help ready the local Stirling landmark of the King’s Knot for reopening.

The long grass at the King's Knot, a result of the suspension of regular maintenance work such a grass cutting due to COVID-19 restrictions, has provided an opportunity to trial an innovative approach to manage the historic landscape.

Scything, a traditional method of grass cutting using a curved blade which dates back to ancient times, offers a way to carefully manage the unique historic environment of the King's Knot. The area formed part of the royal gardens associated with Stirling Castle from the early 17th century, and is now protected as a Scheduled Monument.

Scything also presents a greener alternative to mechanical methods of grass cutting, and can contribute to biodiversity as it is less disruptive and damaging to wildlife.

A man cutting grass with a scythe with a castle in the background

Sarah Franklin, Landscape Manager at HES, said: "Since the launch of our new Climate Action Plan earlier this year, we have been keen to explore ways in which we can better manage our historic landscapes.

"Landscape management at these historic sites must carefully balance the protection of their cultural and archaeological significance with our responsibility to promote biodiversity and recognise these sites as a habitat for many important species of plants and wildlife.

"As many of our staff and contractors have been unable to get into sites during the lockdown period, the easing of restrictions has presented as with the opportunity to trial scything as a way of tackling the overgrown grass at the King’s Knot and ensuring that the distinctive land formations of the Knot are maintained.

"We hope that this work at the King's Knot will be a useful exercise to help us determine how these alternative methods of landscape management can fit within our wider programme of maintenance moving forward."

HES recently announced a phased approach for the reopening of its properties, which will see the external spaces and some interior spaces at Stirling Castle open to visitors from Saturday 1 August.