Thatching Straw availability – the Questions?
One of the more tricky queries we have had over the last few months. Questions about Thatching Straw availability and quality. Thatching straw has to be especially grown, harvested and produced. Either Combed Wheat Reed or Longstraw is used for application onto the roof. With regard to availability this 2017 – 2018 season, we have very interesting information from the National Thatching Straw Growers Association, see below. In addition, we have also spoken to several reed dealers and growers in the south and south west.
The importance of Thatching Straw availability
Almost all thatched roofs will have straw on them so that availability is obviously very important.
Even if your main coatwork is made of Water Reed, the ridge requires use of a softer material. This is almost invariably straw, although other materials ie sedge can be used. The question of thatching straw availability and quality therefore will affect almost all properties which are being re-ridged or re-thatched. Harvest time is early summer and then the material is threshed and prepared for thatching.
Thatching Straw availability and production
It is important to remember that Thatching Straw availability and production is down to those farmers who choose to grow the straw. There is value in supporting those farmers who hold the seed, grow the special varieties of wheat for thatch and keep the old machinery and special skills going. Only then do we can have the option to use both Combed Wheat Straw or Longstraw which has been especially produced for thatching now and in the future. Last Summer’s wet weather has sadly caused the inevitable questioning and possibly scare mongering on thatching straw availability which happens every time the weather is not perfect. Pretty much most years in the UK then!!
Thatching Straw availability and the NTSGA
A most interesting article written by the NTSGA in November 2017. The location of thatching straw growers and difficulty getting a true reflection of the situation are also mentioned. People are buying and selling thatching straw as we speak/read!
To quote the report which was dated November 2017
‘At present, we believe that there is no serious shortage of either combed wheat reed or long straw for thatching work being carried out over the next few months, and stocks should be sufficient until just short of next year’s harvest. However some of the least-well-prepared thatchers may struggle to thatch full time in the weeks preceding 2018 harvest.’
Thatching Straw availability and Listed properties
Another important point which has been raised is that if thatching straw is in short supply and your property is listed can the material be changed. Change of material eg to Water Reed would involve obtaining Listed Building consent. The pros and cons of this is likely to create another interesting debate. Our aim is to give you information so that everyone will understand things if these scenarios arise.
A comment raised at a recent event was received with amazement. It was mentioned that if a listed property was changed from longstraw to Water Reed it could easily be changed back when it was rethatched in the future. We do not think that is so simple but what do you think? Our concerns would be that by the end of say 15 or so years the skills and machinery could be gone or reduced to an unworkable level. The problem as we see it is that the future could well be 15 years ahead and if we don’t preserve the seed, skills, machinery and craftsmens’ ability to provide the straw thatching then it will be almost impossible to reverse. Some people think this is an inevitable progression but at what cost?
Thatching Straw availability – our conclusion
It appears that there is not a major problem for well organised thatchers who have planned ahead. If your thatcher cannot get materials and your job is urgent then maybe you have to look to getting more quotations or, put a sheet on your roof for a few months until the next harvest. Not a lot of help for a poor thatcher who cannot work but some say, is that not how it has always been?
The next harvest could start as early as June/July (weather depending) In this case new season materials could be ready in around 6 months or so. How many people leave their roofs until they need doing so badly that they cannot wait a few months? That is what used to happen and maybe we have just become too impatient. Or maybe we need to increase production to allow for inclement weather and deal with overproduction on good years. An interesting observation from a thatcher recently. The question of cost comes into all the equations which is obviously something which everyone wants to keep fair, manageable and sustainable.
To get things in context, many thatchers have their supplier and have booked materials which means that your maintenance programme will probably be fine. If the supply quality is variable it should not be a major problem as a competent thatcher will know how to use material to its best advantage. Reed/Straw dealers may well keep supplies for loyal customers which is to be expected but there are farmers out there who supply just a few thatchers and who may have surplus… or not. It is hard to know exactly what is going on as when one has an idea of the situation more thatching and selling of straw is going on all the time.