The North Norfolk Reedcutters Association is the organisation that represents the cutters that manage the reed beds of the North Norfolk Coast, and the Broads Reed and Sedge Cutters Association which represents cutters working in the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. It was formed in October 2004 to try to tackle some specific issues within the industry.
There is a history of reed cutting along the North Norfolk coast that goes back centuries with reed cutting playing a very important part of the longshore economy. This seasonal work helped to bring in much needed income during the harshest time of the year when rough seas meant dangerous fishing and there was not much work on the land. Similarly in the Broads, reed cutting was one of the very few opportunities to obtain income locally during the winter months.
The Reed cutting industry survives to this day, with reed cutters a regular sight along the marshes of North Norfolk and throughout the Broads during the winter cutting season.
Most of the current North Norfolk cutters started their cutting career at Cley on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve before branching out and restoring other beds along the coast. Now reed is again being cut at many different sites along the coast as it was in the past.
Over recent years reed has started to be imported from abroad. This has taken a larger share of the traditional thatching market. The imported reed is cut in parts of the world where labour is cheaper, affecting its price. There has only been a 5% increase in the price of a bundle of reeds in the last fifteen years, which is well below the level of general inflation. This has made it much harder to earn a living as a local cutter. Along with this, there has also been a reduction in the number of young cutters coming into the trade.
We recognised the need for a united front when:
Talking with conservation bodies, English Nature and The Environment Agency;
Applying for grant funding to help to buy new equipment and raise the profile of the trade;
Negotiating with the owners of the marshes, such as The National Trust and The RSPB;
Taking part in the debates and decisions which affect agricultural life along the coast;
Marketing Norfolk reed to home owners, thatchers and the building trade;
Providing information to the general public about the work of the reed cutters and their importance in preserving the reed beds as a unique wildlife habitat.
The Association is also looking into the future by researching new markets for reeds and how to regain a larger share of the thatching reed market which has currently been lost to imports from abroad. we are also looking into ways to attract younger people into the trade, as the youngest are now in their forties and many of the older cutters are nearing retirement.
Along with this we are also looking into:
New uses for reeds, such as biofuels, animal feed and paper;
New opportunities for out of season cutting, for land management and biodiversity rather than for just the seasonal commercial crop;