A view from the riverbank at Hamoon of rushes

Having helped the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with publicity for their study of the economic usage of British wild plants (1), my own interest in the uses of wild plants found a new focus. I became aware of the ancient usage of rushes in my local river, the Stour, in North Dorset. Rushes had been cut in particular places along the river, largely for basketry and chair seating, for hundreds of years, a practice which came to an end in 1964 when the last rush-cutter died.

My idea was to set up a community project to revive the craft of rush-cutting and - with my experience of both working with children in local primary schools on practical projects involving plant materials, and of basket-making - to reintroduce the skills of rushwork to children in particular.
Research and consultation with schools, businesses and people from a variety of backgrounds, revealed considerable interest in the aim of RushWorks. In consultation with The Environment Agency, The Dorset Wildlife Trust, local farmers, landowners, angling associations and others, permission was given for the river to be accessed and rushes cut in several locations.

Drying rush

With funding from the Dorset Chalk & Cheese LEADER + programme and the Dorset Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB), RushWorks was founded in April 2006 and operated as a community project for some two and half years. It was based in two converted cow sheds at Gold Hill Organic Farm. Rush harvests have been carried out on a stretch of the river, where permission has been given for the rushes to be cut in perpetuity every year since 2006.

(1) "Britain’s Wild Harvest", HDV Prendergast & H Sanderson, R.B.G.Kew/The Countryside Agency, 2004