Thatched roofs could vanish in 20 years thanks to ‘perfect storm’ of problems

·2-min read
A thatcher works on the ridge of a traditional thatched roof - Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
A thatcher works on the ridge of a traditional thatched roof - Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Thatched roofs could vanish in the next two decades because of a lack of farmers growing the right kind of straw, Historic England has warned.

Two poor harvests and a dwindling number of farmers growing long-stemmed winter wheat – the traditional material used for thatched roofs – had led to a "perfect storm" of problems that could not be solved, the organisation said.

Historic England encourages like-for-like thatch to ensure continuity, but does not have powers to ensure that the same traditional style and materials are used.

Alison Henry, head of building conservation at Historic England, said: "If we don't act soon we might as well give up the fight and within 20 years we won't have any thatched houses to speak of.

"It's not as simple as giving farmers a grant to grow thatching straw, because how do you ensure they produce good quality straw and how do you make sure there is storage when rural storage units are becoming increasingly more valued?"

Other problems facing the production of traditional thatch include a reliance on antiquated farm machinery last produced in the 1950s and the fact that rural workers are being squeezed out of housing, land and storage by rising property prices.

Straw used for thatched roofs is much longer than the straw from modern wheat varieties. Farmers are often reluctant to grow it because its grain yield can be as much as a third lower. However, the National Thatching Straw Growers Association said it remained a profitable crop because the input costs were much lower.

The association is encouraging farmers and steam engine enthusiasts, who have access to the antiquated binding and threshing equipment needed, to grow and process long-stemmed wheat to increase supply for the thatching industry.

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