Chocolate box thatched roofs under threat

thatched roof property

Historic England has warned that thatched roofs may no longer exist in 20 years time.

Thatched buildings need regular maintenance using like-for-like materials. It is well worth looking after a thatched roof as, regularly maintained, it can last for as long as 40 years, depending on the materials used in its construction.

Thatching is naturally waterproof and its thermally efficient qualities make it good for both keeping in the heat in winter and keeping it cool in summer. There is no requirement for ventilation in an attic space with a thatched roof, which has better insulation qualities than four inches of fibreglass insulation and is also a more efficient sound insulator.

What Historic England describes as a ‘perfect storm’ is currently underway, exacerbated by the weather and cost of housing.

Traditional thatching straw is made from traditional long-stemmed winter wheat grown by UK farmers, but two consecutive poor harvests of the wheat has created a shortage in roofing materials. Long-stemmed winter wheat produces a lower grain yield than modern varieties so is less attractive for farmers to grow. Not only that, but as smaller producers have retired their farms have been subsumed by larger farmers who don’t cater for such a small sector.

However, the National Thatching Straw Growers Association (NTSGA) says much lower input is needed to grow the crop so it remains a profitable option.

Once the wheat is grown, antiquated binding and threshing machines are used to process the product into straw, which in turn needs to be stored until it is needed.

However, storage in rural areas is becoming more valued as business space and it is increasingly difficult to find affordable space, with thatchers unable to compete financially with the sums being paid by offices and home delivery companies. Rural workers are being priced out of the housing market and cannot afford homes or land in the areas in which they are needed.

Traditional master craftsmen are working with Historic England to try and find a solution, and field trials are taking place to establish the best straw wheats and growing conditions. Historic England is looking to provide evidence of thatch durability and the benefits of thatched roofs, including weather proofing and insulation, so that it can lobby for further investment, research and incentives to support the supply of traditional thatch material.

It is hoped that smaller sized farms might be interested in growing thatch, so that Britain’s chocolate box properties don’t simply disappear from the landscape.

The implications for Listed properties could be huge, with the cost of thatch rising or worse due to an insufficient supply of rethatching materials to cater for demand.

Read more on maintaining a thatched roof here:Keep your thatch up to scratch