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Green issues: growing your own thatch at St Fagans

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014
Steve Burrow
Number of Participants / Visitors / Audience: 
c. 50

The distance which materials travel to be used in construction, as well as the costs involved, are important points in considering the environmental impact of building in archaeological open-air museums.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, St Fagans undertook to grow our own thatch material. In part this was an archaeological experiment (under Work Package 5), but it also served the important purpose of producing a more environmentally sustainable building as, in previous years, thatch material has been bought from Eastern Europe.

Since St Fagans has an existing farm infrastructure, the set-up costs for the work were relatively low. Far more challenging were the costs in staff time associated with processing the harvested crop.

These rapidly exceeded expectations, causing a considerable drain on resources. Initially, the bulk of the work was managed by staff, but towards the latter stages a volunteer workflow was organised. This helped considerably.

When the project was complete, one of the two roundhouses had been successfully thatched using our own straw, and many lessons had been learnt. In future years it may be possible to refine the harvest process to the point where the process becomes economically viable, but whether such an environmentally desirable result can ever be achieved in a smaller museum without a farm infrastructure is less certain.

The results of this work were presented at the OpenArch conference held in Viminacium.