Conservation takes priority as Broads marshmen harvest Norfolk reeds for use in thatching

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ERIC EDWARDS, a marshman with the Norfolk Broads Authority, cutting reeds at How Hill near Ludham. By April, the end of the cutting season which began last month, he should have cut about 5,500 bunches which will be used to make thatch for houses and bird tables, writes Nicholas Schoon.

The industry is a fraction of its former size, but there is still a stable, healthy demand for the sought-after Broads thatch. The reeds also need to be cut to conserve the watery landscape and the birds and insects which live in it. In many areas, if they are not harvested, the fens dry out and scrub invades. Most marshmen now work for conservation bodies.

The Broads are said to look their best at this time of year and they are far less crowded. The authority has launched a winter programme of guided walks for visitors, co-ordinated with train and bus timetables. 'We want people to leave their cars behind,' the authority said.

Photograph: Brian Harris

(Photograph omitted)