The Reed-Cutters of Camargue

In Camargue, the men who cut the reeds in the marshes are known as the “sagneurs”. A gorgeous book dedicated to them has just been released.
By Claire Vincent

The Camargue is an island in Provence, a territory of earth, salt and water, born from the vagaries of the Rhône River, of a fascinating beauty and an extreme fragility. This bit of land south of Arles, gripped between the river’s two branches, is for many, synonymous with sandy beaches, stretches of water shimmering in the sun, and landscapes sheltering a wild and colorful fauna.

The white horses, the jet-black bulls and the pink flamingos are emblematic of this corner of Provence, and in summer the tourists are many who come to discover these vast expanses… The gaze stretches far over these flat lands, and you can choose to laze around by the Mediterranean, or visit the villages Saintes-Maries-de-la Mer, Salin de Giraud, and Aigues Mortes.

There’s also a less traditional Camargue, far from the beauties of Arles and the Camargue herdsmen perched on their horses, far from their bullfights and their festivals… It’s this more secret Camargue that we ask you to discover, the one where live men tied to the marshes by their ancient, tough and beautiful trade, that of the “sagneur”.

Because these vast spaces that make up of the Camargue are everything except wild… They result from the different activities that man has practiced there for centuries: fishing, hunting, breeding bulls and horses, cultivating rice and grapes, collecting salt and cutting reeds… All that coexists, as best it can, between fresh and salt water, the “little” and “big” Camargue…

The reeds, they’re a little like the blood of the marshes, which host so many different protected species, and the reed-cutters are those who, each year, cut down the fields of reeds. In the past, there were two cuts, green in summer for the animal beds and food, and dry in winter, for covering the roofs of the traditional houses.

Since the advent of mechanization, only the winter cut continues. A few decades ago, the reed harvest was done on a boat with a low draft, the “Partègue”, or “Portège”, with the help of a sickle known as the “Sagnadou”. Today, the reeds are cut from on top of homemade contraptions, tractors, or tanks…

Some protest the degradation of the environment from the passage of these machines, which crush nests, others see in this operation the crucial renewal of the reeds, which alone maintains the wildlife’s habitat. But the “sagneurs” are above all in love with their region, which they intend to preserve, just like their profession. This land is their future, and they respect it.

If many families lived from this agriculture last century, today only four companies working the reeds remain, over some 2,000 hectares. The Camargue is nevertheless the premier French growing region and it continues to export, especially to the Netherlands. The economic importance of this activity is real, the cutting of these reeds generates 1.5 to 2.5 million Euros in sales each year.

A lovely book on this subject has just been published by Rouergue Editions and is marvelously illustrated with photos by José Nicolas.

Discover
Les hommesdes Roseaux
by Colette Gouvion Editions Le Rouergue

The Reed-Cutters of Camargue
The reed cutters of Camargue
Book
Photography José Nicolas
The Reed-Cutters of Camargue
The reed cutters of Camargue
Book
Photography José Nicolas

Latest articles

Lavender Ice Cream: A Delicious Dessert from Olivier Perrière

Lavender Ice Cream: A Delicious Dessert from Olivier Perrière

The star of the summer, ice-cream refreshes the palette of all gourmets throughout the season. A little treat that master ice-cream maker Olivier Perrière adapts across more than 70 flavors, including this delicious traditional recipe with a scent of the South, that spotlights Provence’s ubiquitous “blue gold.”
The Château de Valmer: An Oasis of Luxury on the French Riviera

The Château de Valmer: An Oasis of Luxury on the French Riviera

Within an age-old park, close to Gigaro beach, the Château de Valmer charms with its allure of a bourgeois residence from the 50s. This sumptuous hotel has managed to maintain an authentic appeal through a subtle combination of tradition and glamour.
Christina Sfez, the Delicate Art of Designing Wedding Dresses

Christina Sfez, the Delicate Art of Designing Wedding Dresses

Originally from Paris, and today resident of Marseille, fashion designer Christina Sfez has been creating, since 2011, sublime wedding dresses with a bohemian spirit. Designs that she carefully makes in her workshop on the Cours Julien, to the delight of future wives with a retro style.