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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.

Thatched houses attract animals

The 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.

Squirrels 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 a solution.

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 feline scent.

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 entrance.

  The green woodpecker

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 species.

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.

Information: 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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