Residents In The Roof
Thatched cottages still represent
a traditional image of our rural life and are much sought
after. This is despite the fact that some people still associate
thatch with vermin in the roof. The truth is, prevention is
better than cure. Most pests are opportunists, continuously
on the look out for food and shelter. Thatch is warm. If it
is a straw roof, there will almost certainly be some grain
left in it, providing a source of food for rodents.
best advice is to make it as difficult as possible for them
to get in- just as you would any intruder in your home. Whenever
vermin have managed to get into the roof, poor maintenance
is usually to blame. If a thatch is kept in good repair, completely
covered with 3/4" mesh wire netting and inspected regularly,
pests are rarely a problem.
Most thatchers agree
that the worst intruders are squirrels, which can chew through
electricity cables and cause havoc getting in and out of the
thatch. They might look cute and remind you of Tufty and the
road safety campaign, but they have been known to gnaw through
roof beams and floor joists.
are increasingly becoming big business for the pest-control
industry. Cuddly they might look, but think of them as equivalent
to a tree rat! The reason for the increase in their activities
can be attributed to the popularity of urban bird feeders.
Squirrels are going to gardens, feeding off bird tables and
getting the confidence to move into houses. Another factor
is the recent succession of mild winters. Five years ago there
were between 2.5and 3 million grey squirrels in Britain .
Now there are in the region of 5 million.
Research shows that
squirrels can be very territorial and may try to exclude dogs,
cats and even people from their foraging area. Last year,
in an attempt to deter them from their properties the local
council in Wandsworth became the first to ban the feeding
of squirrels by its tenants.
So what should the
home owner do if squirrels are becoming a pest? There are
now several traps designed to catch the offending vermin,
(The Thatched Owners Group can supply humane squirrel traps
for members) or traditional pest control companies may offer
If rats get into the
roof and have a plentiful supply of food and water they will
not come out - certainly not in winter. If there is no water
supply, they will attempt to get in and out of the thatch
to find one. It is very important, therefore, to ensure that
your water tank is well covered. If the rodents do not have
a water supply, their lodgings will not be so appealing.
Poison is one way of
dealing with rodents, but it usually pays dividends to consult
a professional rather than try to deal with the problem yourself.
If all else fails - get a cat. Rats and mice will usually
stay away from a house where they can detect even the slightest
There are also a number
of ultrasound gadgets on the market that emit a high- pitched
noise. These are inaudible to the human ear, but are unbearable
for rodents. This is an environmentally- friendly approach,
which requires no maintenance other than a change of battery
every six months. The sonic signals can protect an area of
up to 2500 square feet, but it is worth remembering that if
you have a pet rodent in the house, such as a hamster or gerbil,
this noise would make their life intolerable and an alternative
solution should be sought.
Birds can be another
cause of concern to thatch owners. This is particularly true
of sparrows, which were often referred to in the past as "thatch
birds". In the spring they have been known to plunder
a thatch to build a nest, pecking out straw over a concentrated
area making holes appear. This type of damage is easy and
inexpensive to repair, but should be done so straight away
to ensure no other visitor takes advantage of the newly- made
The magpie is another bird that finds thatch
particularly appealing, as is a slightly rarer breed, the
green woodpecker. These birds will remove lengths of straw
and peck at them until the hibernating insects drop out. Whilst
this is clearly a nuisance for thatch owners, care must be
taken in dealing with them as the green woodpecker is a protected
The RSPB recommends
identifying the type of bird causing the problem and then
using the distress call of that bird to deter others of the
same species. This was originally designed for use by the
Ministry of Agriculture and is currently used by airports
and the RAF. Tapes of alarm calls can be purchased, which,
when played intermittently over the period of a week, will
create a bad environment for the birds and they will look
for alternative places to visit. In order to make this deterrent
effective, food and water for the birds should also be removed.
Tapes cost about £20.
If you would like information on any product or service
mentioned above, please contact the Thatched Owners Group
on 01406 330007.
The best advice for all thatch owners is to
ensure a regular inspection and maintenance programme. Pests
of any description are rarely found in a well maintained,
closely netted thatch.
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