Sustainable Scything

The heritage art of scything dates back hundreds of years and is still a viable and sustainable method of land management today. With the move towards using less fossil fuel it offers a carbon neutral way to manage a habitat which is better for the environment and the wildlife within it.

It is possible to cut various areas such as longer grasses, wildflower meadows, waterside vegetation, orchards and private gardens. Without the need for power tools such as strimmers or mowers. Unlike power tools, there is very little maintenance required and it should last a lifetime, so it’s a good choice in the long term to save money.

Scythes can be used to create islands of wild flowers and longer grasses in rotation, which offers havens for pollinators and other wildlife. It is possible to cut up to three times a year in a mosaic pattern in order to stop some plants becoming too dominant or to allow wildflowers to be able to come though. One can work from the middle of an area outwards in order to allow living creatures in the cutting area the chance to escape. This mimics the use of grazing to maintain scrub areas where animals cannot be used.

A huge benefit of scything is the health and wellbeing of the scythe user versus the use of power tools. It is a great way to build up fitness and used correctly will not put any strain on the body. It is a wonderful and peaceful way to be part of the habitat that you are cutting without loud machinery and PPE including headphones and masks. This makes scything an ideal way for private garden owners, volunteers and green space groups to manage their areas independently.

On Thursday 7th September Stephan Gehrels from the Brighton Permaculture Trust came and delivered a Scythe training day to the Adur and Worthing Council Ranger team.

This was a ground-breaking day as it was the first council ranger team to take on this challenge and consider the use of scythes when possible in their work. It was a fantastic training day that I also attended as the Adur and Worthing Wildflower Trail Projects volunteer (link below)

During the day we learned how to use the scythe in various habitats as well as the method of cold forging known as ‘Peening’ in order to maintain and sharpen the scythe blade.


We came away fully able to use the tools safely. The lighter Austrian Scythes are available to buy from the BPT with the whole starter kit if keen to carry on scything. It is hoped that this sustainable training can be rolled out into the wider Community and further Scythe days can be organised via the Brighton Permaculture trust when the cutting season comes round again. (link below)

Brighton Permaculture Trust – Scything Workshop

For more information about scythe training or to express any interest in the use of Scythes, or our Wildflower Trail project, contact Debs Nicolls on the email below.

The bees in Heene Cemetery

Bees, wasps and ants belong (with sawflies) to the Hymenoptera order as they are all related in some way. The earliest known individual of this huge group, a stinging wasp, appeared perhaps 190 million years ago. The first ant was a wasp that lost its wings (about 100 million years ago), and the first bee was a wasp that forgot how to hunt (about 65 million years ago), thus becoming ‘vegetarian’, which may account for why – of the three groups of insects – we might feel more favourably disposed to bees than we do to wasps or ants. Indeed, bees have become the darlings of the Hymenoptera order, their stylised faces appearing on everything from greetings cards to lapel badges. Even if we don’t understand them fully, the whole world loves the busy bees.

With such time spans, we now see species variation on a grand scale. There are at least 22,000 different species of bee worldwide. In Britain, we have over 270 different species, 25 of these being bumblebees.

Our website groups insects by families, so it’s not completely straightforward to find which of the bees we’ve seen. They are grouped into different families: Bumble and Honey BeesMason beesMining bees and Plasterer bees. Let’s take a look at each family:

Plasterer bees

Plasterer bees (Colletidae) are bees that use secretions from their mouthparts to smooth the walls of their nest cells. There may be nine different types of British Plasterer bees.

Until we find more of these Plasterer bees, Heene shelters just the one species, the Ivy Bee. This bee is the last solitary bee to emerge each year, and is Britain’s only true autumn bee. As its name suggests, it finds nearly all its pollen and nectar from Common Ivy.

Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae), Heene Cemetery, September 2022
Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae), Heene Cemetery, September 2022

Mining bees

Mining bees are solitary, ground-nesting bees that have been on earth for more than 30 million years. They comprise the largest British genus of bees with perhaps 67 species.

Females of the Chocolate Mining Bee nest singly, although they often share a burrow entrance with several other females, as can be seen in one of the photographs below.

Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica), Heene Cemetery, March 2022
Chocolate Mining Bee (Andrena scotica), Heene Cemetery, March 2022

The Grey-patched Mining Bee, below, derives much but not all of its food from Dandelions.

Grey-patched Mining Bee (Andrena nitida), Heene Cemetery, April 2022
Grey-patched Mining Bee (Andrena nitida), Heene Cemetery, April 2022

Leafcutter and Mason bees

Leafcutter and Mason bees are mostly solitary bees. Several collect plant or animal hairs to assist in nest construction, whereas other collect plant resin for this purpose. All feed on pollen and nectar, although some of these feed on pollen collected by other bees (and so are called ‘cuckoo bees’).

Leaf-cutter bee (Megachile sp.), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Leaf-cutter bee (Megachile sp.), Heene Cemetery, July 2022

The Leaf-cutter Bee and the Orange-vented Mason Bee chews up the edges of leaves to make a cement with which they seal their nests. Indeed, the Oranged-vented one, below, seems to be doing just that in this photograph.

Orange-vented Mason Bee (Osmia leaiana), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Orange-vented Mason Bee (Osmia leaiana), Heene Cemetery, July 2022

There are other families and genera of solitary bees, all with beguiling names, such as Carpenter, Yellow-faced, Shaggy, Bristle-headed, Wool carder, Resin, Nomad, Variegated cuckoo and Sweat bees. Add them all up and the species variety just in Britain is eye-popping.


Bumblebees (and the Honey Bee) are social insects, where all other bees are solitary. Bumblebees live in small colonies, often underground. Most of those seen in Spring and early Summer will be females, males appearing in late Summer.

White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Vestal Cuckoo Bumblebee (Bombus vestalis), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), Heene Cemetery, June 2022
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum), Heene Cemetery, June 2022
Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Red-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), Heene Cemetery, August 2020
Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum), Heene Cemetery, August 2020
Buff-tailed Bumblebee or Large Earth Bumble-bee (Bombus terrestris), Heene Cemetery, April 2020
Buff-tailed Bumblebee or Large Earth Bumble-bee (Bombus terrestris), Heene Cemetery, April 2020

Bees in numbers

Our meagre efforts have so far shown that we’ve seen just 5 different types of solitary bee and 6 different types of bumblebee. To these, we can add the Honey Bee, making a total of a dozen different species of bee in Heene Cemetery’s one-acre, town-centre site. These numbers – and others – show up again later.

Honey bees

The Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is an abundant species, seen from early Spring until late Autumn. Most flower foragers will be the female workers. The male drones appear in the Summer, and they have fatter bodies and longer antennae. Queens, which emerge in Spring to establish colonies, never leave the hive to forage, but feed on royal jelly produced by workers. But Honey bees, whatever their abundance, remain a single species.

Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), Heene Cemetery, July 2022
Bee hives being introduced into Heene Cemetery, March 2016
Bee hives being introduced into Heene Cemetery, March 2016

There are two beehives in Heene Cemetery and, according to the hives’ keeper, Stuart, “the average beehive in the height of summer has around 50,000 bees!” That’s perhaps 100,000 bees sheltered under the trees of the cemetery’s south-east corner.

On average, bees forage for over a mile from their hive. A DNA analysis of honey samples that Stuart requested in the late summer of 2021 showed traces of 16 plants/flowers known to be in the Cemetery, alongside a further 43 varieties, many of them cultivated plants from gardens in the locality. No doubt, different honey samples at different times of the year would have shown Honey bees had visited different flowers/plants.

Anecdotally, a huge proportion of the photographs taken of bees on flowers in the cemetery have been of Honey Bees, rather than of other solitary bees. Of the 270 various species of bee found in Britain, 229 (*) species have been recorded in Sussex. Yet, to date, we’ve seen 12.

What’s going on?

Changing times

We have – rightly – developed the view that Honey bees and beehives are ‘a good thing’. They are pollinators, essential for the pollination of crops that provide much of the food that we eat. They help sustain our orchards and gardens. Bees provide us with honey – and the honey that comes from Heene Cemetery’s hives is indeed delicious! Everything about them seems to merit the traditional ‘darling’ label.

Yet there’s another story starting to be told, and it comes from respected institutions like the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Natural History Museum. This tells us of the potential unsustainability of urban beekeeping, of an insufficient nectar and pollen supply to support beehive numbers, of honeybees outcompeting wild bee populations. In the words of Kew’s Professor Phil Stevenson:

This revelation will surprise many who think that keeping bees is a great thing for the environment. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case. The public need to be much more aware of the importance of pollinator diversity and how organisms interact, so that we can conserve all urban wildlife more effectively.Failure to tap into the myriad uses of plants and fungi is costing people and planet, says new report, 30th September 2020

It’s said that a single beehive might need 32 acres of green space.

It is widely acknowledged that Britain’s countryside has become nature-depleted and that there is – perhaps surprisingly – greater floral biodiversity in our cities, towns and villages. Until hedgerows and verges are brought back to the varied glory of former times, the countryside remains largely the theatre for crop monocultures.

Unlike honeybees that seem able to feed on a wide range of plants, solitary, wild bees usually have preferred habitats, ones where specific pollen and nectar providers can be found. Where these locations provide a changing diet throughout the seasons, bees (more than most insects) will flourish. But this does mean that a wide range of different seasonal plant food is needed to support these wild, native bees – and Heene Cemetery should be just right for many of them.

Even on their own, the numbers in the cemetery seem somewhat skew-wiff:

270 known bee species in Britain

229 bee species have been recorded in Sussex (*)

5 solitary bee species recorded in Heene Cemetery

7 social bee species recorded in Heene Cemetery (bumblebees and the Honey bee)

2 beehives in Heene Cemetery

100,000 honeybees in Heene Cemetery at the height of summer

* Bees in Sussex

This blog post initially stated that “at least 44 bee species [can be] expected in Sussex”. It transpires that this was a substantial underestimate. Issue 192 of Wildlife, the magazine of the Sussex Wildlife Trust (Spring/Summer 2023), has an article by James Power, author of The Bees of Sussex, in which he says that “there are an impressive 229 species of bee recorded in Sussex”. Ten new species have been recorded here since 2000.

According to the author, Sussex is one of the warmest and driest counties in the country, making it ideal for bees. Its proximity to the European mainland is a further factor that aids bee species numbers.

This adds impetus to the argument that we should be seeing a broader range of solitary bees in Heene Cemetery than appears to be the case.

Books and websites

Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner; Ocelli; revised edition, 2012.

Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain and Ireland by Mike Edwards and Martin Jenner; Ocelli; revised edition, 2012.

This is a standard text on identifying bumblebees, providing photographs, maps, habitat descriptors of where each species can be found, along with a colour key that helps distinguish species based upon colour bands that one can see with the naked eye.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk; Bloomsbury, 2016.

Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland by Steven Falk; Bloomsbury, 2016.

A comprehensive guide to the solitary bees of our islands, this is an authoritative and wonderfully-illustrated guide, packed with photographs.

The Hidden Universe Adventures in Biodiversity by Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Witness Books, 2022.

The Hidden Universe Adventures in Biodiversity by Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Witness Books, 2022.

This is a short and lucid primer on biodiversity that aims to explain a complex subject in terms that most of us can understand. This volume explains what damage habitat loss is doing and how we can all face up to it in practical, daily.

Silent Earth – Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Professor Dave Goulson; Jonathon Cape, 2021.

Silent Earth – Averting the Insect Apocalypse by Professor Dave Goulson; Jonathon Cape, 2021.

Professor Goulson – from our local university at Sussex in Brighton – played a huge role in establishing the link between neonicotinoids and damage to bees. In this volume, he sets out the science and moves on to explain how we can all help avert an ‘insect apocalypse’.

The Insect Crisis – The Fall of Tiny Empires that Run the World by Oliver Milman; Atlantic Books, 2022.

The Insect Crisis – The Fall of Tiny Empires that Run the World by Oliver Milman; Atlantic Books, 2022.

In this volume, Oliver Milman, journalist rather than scientist, explains why we need insects more than they need us. You will find this a motivating read.

The Bee Keepers Association FAQ.

Beekeeping in cities is harming other wildlife, study finds; Katie Pavid on the Natural History Museum website, 30th September 2020.

Kew’s State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report released; The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, 30th September 2020.

State of the Worlds Plants and Fungi 2020, the full PDF report, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

‘Honeybees are voracious’: is it time to put the brakes on the boom in beekeeping?, The Guardian, 24 July 2021.

Written by Rob Tomlinson

Creating Your Own Wildflower Meadow

If you have picked up one of our seed packets, we have provided you with enough seed mixture to cover an area of 1 metre squared. Follow this step by step guide to creating your very own patch of wildflowers…..the bees will thank you for it!!

To increase your chances of establishing a successful wildflower meadow, it is highly recommended that you sow in Early Spring (March/April).

Step 1: Choose somewhere to create your patch. Ideally you need to have a bit of bare ground that gets plenty of sunshine throughout the day, isn’t too fertile and isn’t too weedy. Wildflowers LOVE poor soils that most other plants wouldn’t dream of growing in! Mark out the outline of a 1M squared area using sand, an old hose pipe or some twine/string.

Step 2: If your chosen patch of ground is grassy, it is best to remove the grass beforehand. Grab your shovel and gradually lift the grass and any weeds from your patch, try not to leave any behind to rot down as this can risk returning extra nutrients back to the soil. Remember…. wildflowers love poor soil!

Step 3: When you have a bare patch of ground, dig it over with a garden fork and rake the soil level and to a fine crumbly texture. Then with your wellies on, tread over the ground to firm up the surface.

Step 4: Split the contents of your seed packet in half and mix one half with some fine dry sand (Roughly 1 part seed to 2 parts sand). This helps you see where you are spreading the seed more clearly. Using a tablespoon, scatter the seed and sand mixture over half the patch. Repeat this with the remaining seed, covering the other half of your patch.

Step 5: Tread all over the area again to ensure good contact between the seed mix and the soil, there is no need to rake it in or to cover the seed with soil. Give your newly sown seeds a good shower of water with your watering can. Remember to water regularly in dry weather!

Step 6….Wait for nature to do its thing! Ensure that your patch is well watered as it gets established. Don’t be discouraged if your patch doesn’t suddenly burst into life! It takes a little while for the flowers and grasses to germinate and get going so don’t give up! It will get better with each year. As and when perennial weeds pop up, such as dandelion, dock etc, you can dig these out by hand to give your wildflower seedlings a better chance.

Maintaining your Wildflower Meadow

Year 1
In the first year of sowing, it may take a little while for your wildflowers and grasses to get going. This is perfectly normal and is because most are perennial, that is they come back year after year, and can be slow to establish and some won’t even flower in the first year! What you might see however is some of the existing annual weeds which have laid dormant in the soil come through. This can shade out your meadow seedlings and an easy way to remedy this is to either chop back the weedy growth with shears or mow over your patch. Mowing may sound drastic but it’s quite important in the first year, you should aim to mow or cut back growth in your patch regularly to around 40mm to 60mm. Be sure to remove the cuttings- these can be composted! Doing this ensures that annual weeds are kept under control and provides your slower developing species with time to catch up with fast growers!

Year 2 and onwards
Your meadow should be left to develop from spring into late summer to allow it to flower and provide pollinators with a rich habitat and source of food. In Late July or August, after your meadow has flowered you should take what’s traditionally known as a “hay cut”. Cut back your meadow to around 50mm and leave the cuttings, also known as “arisings”, to dry out and shed seed on your patch, this takes up to 7 days. After which you can remove the arisings and pop them in your compost. Any regrowth can be cut back again in late autumn and in the following spring if needed.

The seed mix that we have provided was kindly donated by West Sussex County Council. It is a general mix of flowers and grasses developed by Emorsgate Seeds that can be used on various soil types.

Some of the species that might pop up in your patch are as follows:

Wild Flowers: Yarrow, Agrimony, Kidney Vetch, Betony, Common Knapweed, Greater Knapweed, Wild Carrot, Hedge Bedstraw, Meadow Crane’s-bill, Field Scabious, Oxeye Daisy, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick, Wild Marjoram, Wild Parsnip, Salad Burnet, Cowslip, Selfheal, Meadow Buttercup, Common Sorrel, Pepper Saxifrage, Bladder Campion, Upright Hedge-parsley, Tufted Vetch.

Wild Grasses: Common Bent, Crested Dogstail, Red Fescue, Smaller Cat’s-tail, Smooth-stalked Meadow-grass.

We would love to see photographs of your wildflower patch, please send them in to so that we can share them on the trail website (please ensure proper consent).

Heene Cemetery Flowering Plants List

At Heene Cemetery, volunteers carry out extensive monitoring of the species that can be found there. Below is a comprehensive list, supplied by the Friends of Heene Cemetery, of all the flowering plants that have been recorded there to date.

American Willowherb
Annual Meadow-grass
Atlantic Ivy
Barren Brome
Beaked Hawk’s-beard
Bittersweet or Woody- Nightshade
Black Medick
Bladder Campion
Bristly Ox tongue
Broad-leaved Dock
Broad-leaved Willowherb
Butterfly Bush
Cleavers or Goosegrass
Common Bent
Common Bird’s-foot- trefoil
Common Comfrey
Common Dog-violet
Common Ivy
Common Mouse-ear
Common Nettle
Common or Black- Knapweed
Common Poppy
Common Ragwort
Common Soft-brome
Common Sorrel
Common Spotted Orchid
Common Toadflax
Common Vetch
Corn Marigold
Cotoneaster sp.
Crab Apple
Creeping Bent
Creeping Cinquefoil
Creeping Thistle
Crested Dog’s-tail
Cultivated Daffodil
Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill

Deadly Nightshade
Early Dog-violet
Enchanter’s- nightshade
English Elm
Evergreen or Holm Oak
False Oat-Grass
Field Bindweed
Field Forget-me-not
Field Maple
Field Wood-rush
Fool’s Parsley
Fox-and-cubs or Orange-Hawkweed
Garden Grape Hyacinth
Garden Privet
Garden Strawberry
Garlic Mustard
Germander Speedwell
Glaucous Sedge
Goat Willow
Great Willowherb
Greater Bird’s-foot- trefoil
Greater Plantain
Grey Sedge
Hairy Tare
Heath False-brome (Tor Grass)
Hedge Bindweed
Hedge Woundwort
Herb Robert
Himalayan Honeysuckle or- Flowering Nutmeg
Hoary Willowherb
Hybrid Bluebell (H. non-scripta x hispanica)

Indian Strawberry
Ivy-leaved Speedwell
Lady’s Bedstraw
Lady’s Mantle
Large-leaved Lime
Lesser Celandine
Lesser Yellow Trefoil
Lords-and-Ladies or -Cuckoo Pint
Meadow Buttercup
Meadow Crane’s-bill
Mexican Fleabane
Michaelmas Daisy
Montbretia (C. aurea x pottsii)
Musk Mallow
Oxeye Daisy
Pedunculate Oak
Pendulous Sedge
Perennial Rye-grass
Perforate St John’s Wort
Prickly Lettuce
Prickly Sow-thistle
Purple Toadflax
Quaking Grass
Red Campion
Red Clover
Red Dead-nettle
Red Fescue
Red Valerian
Ribwort Plantain
Rose Campion
Rosebay Willowherb
Rough Meadow-grass
Scarlet Pimpernel
Short-fruited Willowherb
Silver Birch
Smooth Hawk’s-beard
Smooth Sow-thistle
Spear Thistle

Spindle Tree
Spring Crocus Square-stalked St John’s -Wort
Square-stemmed -Willowherb
Stinking Iris
Summer Snowflake
Thale Cress
Three-cornered Garlic or -Leek
Thyme-leaved Speedwell
Trailing Bellflower
Wall Barley
Wall Lettuce
Water Figwort
Wavy Bitter-cress
White Campion
White Clover
White Comfrey
White Stonecrop
Wild Carrot
Wild Onion or Crow Garlic
Wild Teasel
Wood Avens or Herb-Bennet
Wood Dock
Wood Forget-me-not