Still cutting it after decades on Broads

For generations, the ancient art of reed-cutting has been passed from father to son. Wally Mason is no exception - learning the craft at his father's side 55 years ago.

For generations, the ancient art of reed-cutting has been passed from father to son.

Wally Mason is no exception - learning the craft at his father's side 55 years ago.

Mr Mason, now the Broads' oldest hand reed-cutter, began to pass on the knowledge to his own sons before they reached the age of 10.

But the 60-year-old warns that the future for the craft is far from sunny.

He warned that his business was in decline as cheap imports of reed from Turkey and Poland made it impossible for him to make a living any more.

He predicted that unless the situation changed there would soon be no reed-cutters left on the Broads, despite initiatives to get youngsters involved through government subsidised projects.

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“Norfolk reed is the best. But we cannot compete with wages in Turkey,” he said. “It would be a real shame if another traditional trade disappeared.”

That has not stopped Mr Mason from training his three sons in the art of hand cutting however, in what has become a family vocation with his wife, sons and their girlfriends all helping cut the reeds using ancient methods. Mr Mason refuses to use machines as he tries to keep the declining art of hand cutting alive.

And he is the only reed-cutter to employ ancient skills, including “megging,” where the cutter chops the reeds directly from a boat rather then by standing on the land.

Lee and Luke, his 22-year-old boys, who are currently the two youngest hand reed-cutters, learned their work at the tender age of eight.

But it is their 60-year-old father who still holds the record as the youngest hand reed-cutter. He started aged five when his father tied a kitchen knife to a willow branch to fashion a make-shift reed-cutter for him.

And despite it being difficult to make ends meet, he said he would not do any other job.

“Money isn't everything. The best thing about my job is the peace and quite, and I get to watch the nature. I see hawks, herons and otters every day,” he said.