Could this be the end of East Anglia's traditional thatched roofs?

EADT- Environment David Green AUG 24TH
Photograph Simon Parker 14/8/09
Thatcher Dominic Meek

Thatchers are split over what should go on East Anglia's roofs as there is a shortage of thatching straw. - Credit: Simon Parker

Concerns have been raised over the future of East Anglia's distinctive thatched roofs, as thatchers are split over what should go on them.

Typically in the UK roofs are thatched with either combed wheat reed, water reed or long straw. With Norfolk and Suffolk being  "two of the last bastions of traditional long straw thatching", according to a Historic England boss.

Alison Henry, head of building conservation and geospatial survey at Historic England, said: "There's a great deal of uncertainty. I think all types of thatching materials are going up in price.

"For both straw and read, there are shortages, and problems particularly with labour supply. And with water read, which tends to be mostly imported, that is now going up in price quite considerably due to the lorry driver shortages.

"It's really problematic."


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She added that Historic England is planning to conduct research into how to incentivise growing thatching straw in this country. 

Dominic Meek, secretary of the East Anglian Master Thatchers Association, said there was a particular shortage of long straw in East Anglia.

Dominic Meek harvesting the long straw he needs for his thatching back in 2009

Dominic Meek harvesting the long straw he needs for his thatching back in 2009 - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

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He said: “It’s been a really good harvest this year for those who have got it. 

“We're under threat at the moment unless somebody starts growing more. 

“There are quite a few thatchers in East Anglia who do grow their own, but we do need more. 

“We need more people to get into it because it’s quite an involved process and not many people know how to do it.” 

Mr Meek said some thatchers had been looking for ways around the shortage.

"What's been happening is there have been some rather unscrupulous thatchers putting combed wheat reed on instead of long straw, which is actually illegal.

"It seems to be happening more." 

There are rules governing what can be used on a roof with around half of all thatched buildings in the country being listed.

Historic England say, rethatching a roof with a material that has not previously been used changes the character of the building and could put it in violation of the listed building laws.

Ms Henry said: "We believe it's important to try and maintain these traditions and to keep thatch distinctive in the different localities and the different regions." 

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