The Trouble With Birds: Thatching 2


The thatching has been going well, with the weather on our side.

If anything it has been too hot over the last couple of weeks. Fine for the gardener who can head for the shadiest spot on the plot, but what do you do if you’re working on the top of a roof?



No shade up there..

The roof has all sorts of natural hollows, dips and bulges. But it’s likely that the area to the left of the left hand chimney was thatched at a different time to the rest. There is a distinct slope down to the left which shows up particularly on the chimney apron – that projecting section of new thatch directly below the chimney. It’s difficult to judge at roof level but when he came down to the garden to check his work the thatcher was straight on it.



The following day he made some adjustments, by building up the left edge of the apron. Perfect.



Thatchers have the same problem as I do working on a slope: keeping themselves plus all their tools and other materials up there in defiance of gravity.  I couldn’t help noticing this natty little device. Simply two bits of stout mesh hinged together, opening to give a 90 degree angle, one side pegged down to the roof. C’est voilà. An instant shelf. Mine would need to be a bit smaller, to fit into the narrower gaps between the plants. But the principle applies. I did mention it to Mike..

For Jennifer in Washington: I asked the thatcher about the seeds in the straw. It is threshed ahead of him using it, so only the empty husks now remain. Just as well really or we could be growing a fresh crop on the roof! But he does carefully cut off the seed heads in any case. It’s apparently more of a problem around September when the straw is greener (freshly cut) and any seeds which do remain could still be viable.



Halfway. The front side of the roof complete.

But what of those birds?



Around the far side of that end chimney the old straw has shrunk back from the cement coping, opening up a gap.

Yep, you’ve guessed it. A couple of weeks before the thatcher was due to arrive we noticed a coal tit repeatedly ducking into the hole, beak crammed with food. Picking our way out over the bank to just below the roof line the high pitched chirps of the young were much in evidence. What to do? The thatcher, and the scaffolding, had been booked for months. Stopping the project now would delay it yet more months. But in no way was I prepared to block up that hole with the chicks inside. And no way of moving them either. The thatcher was of the same mind. We would leave that part of the roof until the end of the project. And see what happened.

Our previous house was a thatch too. In Devon only the top part of the roof, the ridge, tends to be covered with chicken wire. Local thatchers take the view that wiring the whole roof, although it would protect it from bird and squirrel damage, would lead to faster deterioration because the wire traps in moisture. With abundant moisture being less of an issue in the more eastern parts of the country thatchers there tend to wire the whole roof. In that house we were renovating too. I’ve probably told the story before, but it was a much larger project. We had builders working continuously on it for 54 weeks. At one point they’d removed the bottom three feet from the wall along the entire side of the house, holding it up with acrow props. We could have done an Indiana Jones roll through the hole from the path outside to the sitting room inside. It was winter. Icicles hung from the disconnected radiator pipes. Birds flew from room to room. Amazing how time can blur the memory really and that I could ever contemplate doing it all over again!

In Spring that year a wren discovered that she could just squeeze through the chicken wire and hollowed out a nest deep in the thatch on the underside of the roof. And what a clever bit of thinking. A wren is probably the only bird small enough to do it and surely nothing else could reach her or her brood. For a couple of weeks, every day when we returned home from work, six little yellow beaks would poke out of the chicken wire by way of greeting, each one jostling to be the beak out in front. It didn’t take us long to find out why.. the builders had been feeding them bits of their lunchtime sandwiches!