VIDEO: The reed cutter’s art on the Norfolk Broads

Until the tide of sweeping change brought by the first world war, the famed marshman was a common sight throughout the Broads, carrying out commercial reedcutting as one of his duties.

However, a gradual decline in numbers over the decades accelerated in the closing years of the last century to the point where there were fewer than 20 reed cutters working on the Broads.

The legendary and much photographed reed cutter, Eric Edwards, long since retired from the Broads Authority but still working the marshes into his 70s, rues the fact that modern-day youngsters have no appetite for the rigours of hard winter toil.

Uncertain pay dependent on the harvest, a scarcity of marsh work outside the January to March cutting season and increasing competition from imported reed have all conspired to deter a new generation of reed cutters.

However, the Broads Authority has announced a bold action plan to address the decline and significantly increase the area of Broads reed beds being commercially cut.

Andrea Kelly, the authority's senior ecologist, said: 'We know there are almost 2,000 hectares of open fen on the Broads and our aim is to see 25pc of that managed commercially.'

Ms Kelly said: 'There will be benefits to people, protecting the opportunities for them to live and work on the Broads, and we will also facilitate new uses for reed crops, such as compost and bio-energy, to help manage the Broads.'

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Aiming to start implementing the action plan as early as next winter, she said: 'No other organisation is working with cutters in the same way.'

Part of the plan has already seen the provision of training for new reed cutters and addressing the issue of availability of work by providing them with scrub clearance contracts outside the cutting season.

To find out more, read the EDP for Saturday January 21.

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