History of the reed in Camargue

André's distant ancestors already gathered reeds in Camargue in Provence. On February 4, 1302, Guigon de Roche, a lord at that time, granted the "true inhabitants" the right to gather the reeds on a part of his marsh in Camargue, in Provence. This privilege still continues today, on the common parts of the reed marshes. From the Middle Ages to the start of the 20th century, cut green in summer and dried on the spot, reeds made up the main part of the donkeys' and mules' fodder. In winter, reed-cutting is rarer: it goes to cover the herders' cabins and to make some "matting", used to protect the market gardens.

After the second world war, the gathering of reeds took on another dimension. The enormous need for food in all of Europe drove the northern countries, notably Holland, to drain their marshes to obtain arable land.

They then fell into a shortage of reeds, which they used to cover the roofs of their houses. Merchants set off in search of new sources of supply and discovered the reeds of the Camargue (Provence), of excellent quality. Starting in the Fifties, the market developed so much that the reed-cutters turned in large numbers to the exploitation of winter reeds. It was the start of a golden age for the inhabitants of Vauvert and Gallician in Camargue (Provence).

The reeds are our very own petroleum," explains André. No need to plant it, it grows all by itself. All you have to do is bend over to gather it."

The local reed-cutters' association counted up to 120 members and the Vauverdois saw in their reeds a very profitable activity.

"The price of a bundle has for a long time followed that of Pastis," jokes André. "With records of 235 bundles per day, the reed-cutters earned a good living."

Rancher's cabin and its reed roof

Sagneur (reed gatherer) pulling his boat in the marshes

Sagneur (reed gatherer) of the Camargue with his bundle of reeds

Hunter in the Camargue

The reed cutter's work in the Camargue

A sensitive ecosystem

In Camargue, in the regional park, the reed marshes is a fragile balance...

But the reed marsh of the regional park of Camargue is fragile, and little by little it is deteriorating. The reed-cutters are not the only ones to roam its 2000 hectares. Fishers, hunters and breeders are also at home here, and they don't all have the same interests. Especially in regards to water managment in the marshes of the regional park of Camargue. "The fishermen want water all year round and they want to control the entry of water during the spawning season," notes Alain Sandoz (*), researcher, "the reed-cutters want a short drying up in summer and above all water renewal. The breeders don't want too much water, to have more pasture. Waterfowl hunters, who make up an important pressure group, demand a summer water supply in order to attract the fowl at the opening of the hunting season, but also to be able to move around the marshes of this regional park of Camargue in small boats."

In order to control water entry as they wish, private owners install their own dykes. Result : the arrival of polluted salt water by way of the Canal du Rhône at Sète, and untimely emptyings have worsened the state of the marshes and ponds. "We all have to assume our part of the responsibility," admits André. "Now we're trying to repair the damage, but it's too late. In any case, in regards to the reed-cutters. The exploitable areas have diminished, and the reeds are less dense, less tall, less lovely." And the harvest is less profitable.

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