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Rush Matters by Tracey George Posted on March 25, '16

Felicity Irons and her team spend the summer months of June, July and August harvesting English freshwater bulrush scirpus lacustris, schoeneplectus on the River Great Ouse in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, the Nene in Northamptonshire and on the River Ivel in Bedfordshire - carrying on with a tradition that goes back many centuries.

The bulrush is cut from 17ft long punts using rush knives, a slim scythe-shaped blade 3ft long fixed to a 6ft handle, enabling the rush stems sometimes up to 10ft in length to be cut from the river bed. Each day's cut is transported back to the farm and stood up against a 500m hedge to allow sun and wind to dry the rush over a few days. Up to 2 tonnes of rush is cut each day. 

During the drying process the weight of the rush is reduced to a fifth. The variation in weather during this process naturally produces extraordinary and beautiful shades of color. Prolonged sun gently bleaches to warm honey tones. During windy weather the colors have a more vivid green/blue hue. There are no chemicals used in any part of the process. It is entirely natural.

Softer, more supple and often tougher than willow, rush has traditionally been favored by craftsmen over the years. It's a more painstaking material to use - it has to be dampened, stretched and worked - but dried rush has a knack of "setting" into the shape of a finished product. Twisted and braided, it's unbelievable strong. 

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