Last refuge for traditional skills

An educational centre has been opened at Norfolk's newest national nature reserve to promote the area's dwindling reed-cutting industry.

An educational centre has been opened at Norfolk's newest national nature reserve to promote the area's dwindling reed-cutting industry.

The Colin O'Riordan Building is the latest addition to the already well-established ecological learn-ing centre at How Hill, near Ludham.

Opened by MP Norman Lamb, the building will be used as a resource centre for the reed-cutting industry, including training for a new generation of apprentice cutters just appointed by the Broads Authority.

The building will also host talks on the history of the marshes and marshmen and will be used for promoting the reed and sedge industry to thatchers.

It is a traditional Norfolk industry that for many years has been in steep decline.

The Broads Reed and Sedge-cutters Association was set up in 2003 to promote the interests of the few remaining marshmen, and this year secured a pledge from the thatching industry that as long as Norfolk reed continues to be cut, it will be bought.

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In July, backed by Lottery funding, the Broads Authority launched a last-gasp attempt to save reed-cutting by starting a search for trainees.

There were more than 100 applications and the first group will soon be getting their hands dirty, being trained in the new How Hill building by veteran marshman Eric Edwards.

How Hill director David Holmes said: "This is one of the biggest thatched buildings in Norfolk and in a couple of years it will need renewing. With the problems in the industry we might have to go to Poland for the reed though, which rather sticks in the throat.

"We decided to build this centre to help promote the industry and tempt youngsters into it - because if we don't do something now, the future of the marshes is in the balance."

The building is named after Colin O'Riordan, who killed himself while music adviser of Edinburgh City Council after being told to make cuts to his budget.

A fund was set up in his memory with his brother, UEA professor and environmentalist Tim O'Riordan, giving the first donation to the new building.