Reed cutters of the marshes in Camargue: the end of a craft?

To gain in profitability, some reed cutters of Camargue thought about adapting farming equipment to cut reeds faster. That was the choice of André's two brothers. "A machine cuts the equivalent of 1200 bundles per day, or eight to ten times more than a traditional reed cutter of Camargue."

The profession of reed cutter in Camargue, which moreover has to compete with reeds coming from Hungary and Turkey, is undergoing massive changes.

"Today, reed-cutters are changing profession, either because they are disgusted with the state of the marshes, or because they are not earning enough money."

Once his boat is filled by a pretty, golden dome, André, reed cutter in Camargue, puts away his tools - the "sagnadou", the whetstone and the binding wire. With the help of a long pole, the "partègue", he propels the small craft along the canals, rivulets and ponds according to their size, which form a veritable labyrinth.

"I still sometimes get lost," he apologizes. "When the reeds are very high, and when they close up again behind me, I no longer have any orientation, it's impossible to know from where I came."

Many stories of reed cutters of Camargue, drowned, lost or swallowed up by quicksand, are told in the village. The reeds ripple heavily on their long stalks, their plumes sometimes concealing the sun. The boat glides noiselessly over the black waters, causing circles to ripple from one bank to the other. A bird of prey flies majestically over the scene. A bit farther, on the embankment, lies an enormous pile of cut reeds.

André Calba steps from his craft and greets Nicolas Bouterin, sixteen years old. This latter is a binder.

"The machines cut the reeds over big areas, whether they are fine or not. Then you have to sort them, and put them in bundles. He explains, "There are a dozen of us doing that."

He takes an armful of reeds and spits in his palms to better grab his comb, a short-handled rake. He pulls with his comb to make the roots and old reeds fall off. The debris from the reeds fly around him. Like André earlier, he binds the bundle and pulls sharply to snap the wire.

"Each binder has his own way of binding. If someone stole one of my bundles and puts it in his pile, I'd recognize it right away."

Nicolas left school last year and doesn't see himself anywhere else except on the reed marshes.

"Since I was little, I've loved the reeds and the marshes. Whenever I can, I come here. Here, everything is quiet, nobody bothers you and Nature is magnificent. I know almost all the birds : the reed warbler, the mallard duck, the coot, the bittern…"

He binds about 120 bundles per day. For each one, he gets 30 cents (2005).

Farm equipment for cutting the reeds

Sagneur, or traditional reed gatherer, on his small boat in the marshes of the Camargue

The reed binder

The binder sorts the reed and puts them in bundles

Camargue landscape at sunset

Flight of pink flamingos in the Camargue

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