For many years now the local production of thatching materials has been in decline throughout most of the UK. This coupled with successive poor weather at straw harvest has led to volatile prices and great inconsistencies in quality.
This has led to huge amounts of thatching materials being imported. Water reed from as far away as China, and hazel spars made in Eastern Europe have undermined local industry and threaten to further erode the diverse regional nature of thatching in our country, not to mention the green credentials of straw roofs.
Modern wheat varieties have been bred to be very short with huge yields of grain, but these are of no use to the thatcher. Their straw must be from older varieties, with long stems.
The straw must be cut and bound into sheaves whilst slightly green to retain the maximum strength and durability in the finished material.
It is then stood up or ‘stooked’ to ripen in the field before being stacked ready for threshing later in the year.
This is a very labour intensive process, with each sheaf of straw being handled around ten times before it gets to the roof.
The thatching industry is a huge consumer of coppiced hazel, as every traditional straw thatch is fixed to the roof with nothing more than twisted hazel spars.
Good quality hazel for thatching spars and ligers needs to be coppiced on an eight year cycle to produce straight rods of the appropriate thickness.
These then need to be split down by hand, pointed at boath ends and finaly tied up in packs ready for use. With some 5000 spars being used on the average roof this can represent many man hours.
Buying locally produced thatching materials provides employment in rural areas, helping the local economy as well as reducing the environmental impact of transport and providing improved habitat for wildlife.