We have been growing crops for around 10,000 years and have probably been protecting these crops from pests for about as long,
Nobody will ever know when we first started using models to guard crops against animals and birds but what we do know is that the Egyptians seem to have used them 3,000 years ago to protect wheat fields along the Nile from flocks of quail.
Two thousand five hundred years ago the Greeks used carved wooden scarecrows to guard vineyards against birds. The Romans later adopted them and as their Empire spread so did the use of scarecrows.
Japanese farmers seem to have started using scarecrows at about the same time as the Greeks and Romans, though their scarecrows were made from old rags, meat and fish bones. Farmers even set fire to them to make them smell worse, as they believed it was the smell that scared the birds away. After this Japanese farmers started using figures like humans, though they still called them kakashis (“something that stinks”).
In Europe scarecrows developed along various lines. The Germans used wooden witches, erected in winter, to ensure that spring arrived, whilst the Italians used animal skulls on poles as a protection against pests and diseases. In the UK we had small boys with bags of stones to scare birds. After the Black Death of 1348 the rural population dropped so far that farmers started to make figures from straw with carved turnip or gourd heads., though child bird scarers were still working well into Victorian times.
Even today, with sophisticated automatic bird scarers and hawk-shaped kites, the simple human figure of a scarecrow makes a very effective deterrent.
Native Americans used a number of ways of protecting their crops, but the one that interests us here is the way that Zuni children in the American Southwest used to hold competitions to see who could make the best scarecrow.
Yes, Open Farm Sunday (7th June), marks our second annual Scarecrow Competition.
For more information go to the Competition page – don’t worry about Geography, we are running a photo-based competition for those of you not fortunate to live in Nottinghamshire.