WEERRIBBEN-WIEDEN NATIONAL PARK, Netherlands (AP) – The drone of his small outboard motor cuts through the early morning silence as Wout van de Belt navigates his flat-bottomed punt through the twisting waterways of the eastern Netherlands.

The 57-year-old is one of a small remaining group of professional Dutch reed cutters, harvesting, cleaning and drying reed that is used to thatch houses. They’re practitioners of an ancient trade that is deeply interwoven with the watery landscape of the low-lying Netherlands.

“I never have to sit in traffic jams,” Van de Belt says as he heads toward his office, passing clumps of reeds lining the banks of a marshy nature reserve in the Weerribben-Wieden National Park, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Amsterdam. “We start at first light and finish when it gets dark.”

Wout van de Belt on the deck of his flat-bottomed punt next to stacks of reed in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden in Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. The work cutters like Wout van de Belt carry out in the Dutch wetlands is tough, but at least they never get stuck in traffic jams as they chug in flat-bottomed punts to the stands of reed. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

He first cut reed when he was just 12 and established his own business when he was 18. The trade is in his blood – his father and grandfather before him also cut reed. But van de Belt says the industry is now under threat from cheaper Chinese reed imports. He wants the Dutch government to lower sales tax on locally cut reed to level the playing field.

While their profession is steeped in history, reed cutters have moved with the times. These days, they use brush cutters, hedge trimmers and specially adapted rice mowing machines that chew through stands of reeds, spitting out the stalks that are cleaned, tied into bigger bundles and stacked in large barns to dry out.

The work is cold and hard, though cutters don’t work if it is raining as reed cut when wet is lower quality.

Van de Belt says the tough physical labor means that cutters often lose up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) body weight in their season, which generally starts around Christmas and ends in mid-April. “That’s when the brooding season starts and we give the area back to the birds,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed.

Wout van de Belt cuts reed in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden near Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. While their profession is ancient, reed cutters have moved with the times. These days, they use brush cutters, hedge trimmers and specially adapted rice mowing machines that chew through stands of reeds, spitting out the stalks that are cleaned, tied into bigger bundles and stacked in large barns to dry out. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Wout van de Belt carries a stack of reed in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden near Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. While their profession is ancient, reed cutters have moved with the times. These days, they use brush cutters, hedge trimmers and specially adapted rice mowing machines that chew through stands of reeds, spitting out the stalks that are cleaned, tied into bigger bundles and stacked in large barns to dry out. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Wouter Slors, navigates his flat-bottomed punt through twisting waterways to a plot of land where he cuts reed at the Naardermeer natural reserve in Muiderberg, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft of harvesting, cleaning and drying reed that is used to thatch houses, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Wouter Slors, reed cutter at the Naardermeer natural reserve, in Muiderberg, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Slors, one of a small remaining group of professional Dutch reed cutters, practitioners of a trade that is deeply interwoven with the watery landscape of the low-lying Netherlands but is now under threat from cheaper Chinese imports. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Wout van de Belt cuts reed in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden near Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. While their profession is ancient, reed cutters have moved with the times. These days, they use brush cutters, hedge trimmers and specially adapted rice mowing machines that chew through stands of reeds, spitting out the stalks that are cleaned, tied into bigger bundles and stacked in large barns to dry out. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Reeds blow in the wind in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden in Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Wout van de Belt cuts reed in the national parc Weerribben-Rieden in Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. The work cutters like Wout van de Belt carry out in the Dutch wetlands is tough, but at least they never get stuck in traffic jams as they chug in flat-bottomed punts to the stands of reed. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Reed is stacked at the Naardermeer natural reserve in Muiderberg, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Workers load stacks of reed onto a flat-bottomed barge in Weerribben-Rieden national parc, near Belt-Schutsloot, Netherlands, Friday, April 6, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Evert-Jan Van Ettekoven, left, and Harm van Ettekoven, rear, renovate a thatched roof with reed in Hilversum, Netherlands, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft of harvesting, cleaning and drying reed that is used to thatch houses, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Reed thatchers of the Van Ettekoven firm renovate a roof in Hilversum, Netherlands, Thursday, April 12, 2018. Practitioners of an ancient craft of harvesting, cleaning and drying reed that is used to thatch houses, Dutch reed cutters are seeking tax breaks to allow them to better compete with cheaper imports from China. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

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