The National Society of Master Thatchers (NSMT) calls on owners of thatched houses to write to the Government highlighting problems when it comes to replacing and maintaining their thatched roofs. For the third year in a row, the thatching-straw harvest has been damaged by heavy rain, and stocks are runing low. The wet weather last October limited the number of acres that were planted for the 2009 harvest, so the situation looks unlikely to improve. Some thatchers are turning away work because of the lack of stock, and the price of straw has trebled in the past three years.

However, the problem is likely to be exacerbated by the Heritage Protection Bill anticipated to come before Parliament between now and the Easter recess which is going to be prescriptive about planning-policy guidance, leaving less room for local-council interpretation. English Heritage has advised the Government that it should retain the ‘like for like’ policy, insisting that thatch used should be ‘traditional to the particular region’. However, making this happen in the current climate presents challenges for both owners and the thatching industry.

‘It’s vital that the interpretation and implementation of “like for like” is sufficiently flexible to allow the thatcher and owner to make their own judgement on the type of thatch suitable,’ says Marjorie Sanders, secretary of the NSMT. ‘We don’t want the policy to be written on tablets of stone.’

The NSMT is studying alternatives to straw, such as miscanthus, flax and sorghum. ‘Other materials should be allowed to be used in new-build properties and non-listed buildings. Having said that, there’s not enough thatch to go around even just the listed buildings. Thatch is very environmentally friendly, and owners look after it to a high standard with no help from the Government, so all we’re asking is that they lighten up on this policy to make things easier.’

Concerned owners of thatched houses are encouraged to write to Iain Wright MP at the Department of Communities and Local Government.