Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw, water reed, sedge, rushes and heather, layering the vegetation so as to shed water away from the inner roof. It is a very old roofing method and has been used in both tropical and temperate climates.
Thatch is still employed by builders in developing countries, usually with low-cost, local vegetation. By contrast in some developed countries it is now the choice of affluent people who desire a rustic look for their home or who have purchased an originally thatched abode.
In 21st century England, all this still exists, but they are expensive to maintain and since modern materials are cheaper and easier, thatches have been slowly disappearing over the last century. Not only that, but now it seems they are under threat from climate change too, as warmer, wetter weather encourages moss and algae to grow in the thatch while also creating a shortage of straw.
The thatch comes from natural, sustainable materials – the most common type in the UK and Ireland is wheat straw, while some parts of the country use water reed. Once on the house, the thatch itself provides habitat and food for wildlife, especially birds and insects. You can actually see the individual straws in the image below:
If you stay in a thatched cottage, your tourist dollars are automatically helping preserve the tradition. Under the Thatch offers a wonderful and eclectic collection of historic places to stay, mostly in west Wales.
Here’s a short video advert for an Oxfordshire thatcher that gives you an idea on how painstaking the thatching process is and how meticulous they have to be: