‘Scything is the new yoga’: Annual hay harvest returns to east London

Haymaking is a sustainable way to keep soil rich and productive. Photograph: Colin O’Brian

East London is set for an enjoyable bout of hay fever this month as a popular scything festival returns for the seventh year running.

Community Haystacks 2019, co-founded by Hackney-based artist Kathrin Böhm, will see people descend on Walthamstow Marshes to make hay, have a picnic, listen to music, ramble and learn about urban foraging.

The event, organised by Kathrin’s Community Haystacks group and Lee Valley’s park rangers, takes place on Saturday 20 July from 10.30am until 10pm near the Horse Shoe Bridge at Springfield Marina.

Kathrin told the Citizen: “Why are we scything on the marshes? To remind ourselves that this was common land, agricultural land, that this green open space has a collective and productive history. It’s good to remind ourselves of this possibility in London.”

Scythers will create giant haystacks on the marshes. Photograph: courtesy of Kathrin Böhm

The day kicks off with a three-hour haymaking workshop led by local super scyther Ida Fabrizio – tickets for this, available on Eventbrite, cost £22 each, with refreshments and equipment provided.

A large swathe of the marshes will then be opened up to experienced scythers for the afternoon, and children can enjoy the Hay & Play area.

Park ranger Eamonn Lawlor and herbalist Melissa Ronaldson will host a guided tour around the marshes from 1-2.30pm.

The gathering will then relocate to the picnic area in the evening for food, drinks, informal talks and music.

Kathrin says the festival is designed to celebrate Walthamstow Marshes, one of the last remaining pieces of semi-natural marshland in London.

She added: “Over the last six years, under the wide blue skies, more than 300 people have learnt to scythe, picking up this ancient skill surprisingly quickly.

“Local residents, conservationists, historians, activists, artists, families and scything enthusiasts have joined together to recreate the pre-mechanical hay harvest and revive the traditions of scything and commoning.

“By taking part, scythers of varying degrees of experience reconnect with a venerable part of the farming year.

“Haymaking is part of the ancient order of land husbandry, one of the ways farmers used to lock fertility into the soil, now revived as a sustainable way of keeping the earth rich and productive.”

For more information about Community Haystacks 2019, head to h-a-y-s-t-a-c-k-s.net or email kathrin@myvillages.org

To book a place for the scything workshop, head to eventbrite.co.uk

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