Using seagrass that used to flourish in Danish waters.
Photographs: Frilandsmuseet Kgs Lyngby / Visitlaesoe
Text: Mariano Anthony Davies
Danish scientists are keen to re-establish the growth of eelgrass (seagrass) in Denmark’s coastal waters. After a two-year experiment, there are now 70 times more eelgrass shoots in Horsens Fjord and on the Danish Island called Laesø, once known for its salt industry, several original dwellings still exist thatched with seaweed.
Eelgrass was traditionally dried, bundled and twisted into thick ropes that were then woven through the rafters of homes to form roofs. These roofs typically last at least 200 years, some surviving up to 400 years. However, in the 1930s, the eelgrass natural to the area was attacked by a disease that made it challenging to maintain these roofs. The number of remaining eelgrass roofs dwindled to just a few by the 21st century.
Since 1900, Denmark has lost between 80-90 % of the once lush beds of eelgrass that grew along our shores and in its fjords.
This is not only bad for fish but also other animals that need the eelgrass as their natural habitat; it is also a negative development of the climate because eelgrass is effective at binding and storing carbon.
For this reason, biologists from the University of Southern Denmark decided to investigate whether it is possible to restore eelgrass meadows in Denmark. Their work also has implications for other species of seagrass suffering the same fate elsewhere in the world.
At the moment, the research team is conducting similar experiments in two other places as well - in Vejle Fjord and in Lunkebugten on the island of Tåsinge. To date, 84,000 shoots have been planted in Vejle Fjord, covering an area of 3.42 hectares.
Why choose a thatched roof?
A scientific project carried out by The International Thatching Society and several universities has proven that thatched roofs are the most CO2-friendly construction and far more fire-resistant than used to be thought. Furthermore, these thatched houses are often cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
There are approximately 55.000 houses with thatched roofs in Denmark and 10.000 of these are holiday homes. These are spread throughout Denmark and serviced by nearly 800 Danish thatchers, of which 100 are mostly from Eastern Europe.
There are only three female thatchers in Denmark, and I was fortunate enough to meet Betina Steffensen, who is the most experienced of these three and presently working at Frilandsmuseet near Kongens Lyngby. She has been a fully qualified thatcher for 13 years and thoroughly enjoys her creative and skilled work – not regretting her chosen profession in this male-dominated world, where no two roofing tasks are quite the same. She particularly enjoys the vision of the finished result of her work.
Asked whether she would advise other females to consider her profession, she once again emphasised that for anyone who would enjoy seeing the completion of a straw roofing task, even though it can be quite hard work at times, the end result certainly justifies the means. To fully understand the beauty and skilled complexity of thatching as a profession, a work experience period with a professional thatching team is the best way to find out if this is something for you, she said.
Thatched house museums in Denmark
The beauty of this skilled profession, with its magnificent history, can be experienced throughout Denmark at open-air museums, where houses with thatched roofs from different periods of Danish history can be seen as they were in their original placing.
The most famous of these open-air museums are:
• Frilandsmuseet – Kongens Lyngby.
• Sagnlandet – Lejre.
• Frilandsmuseet – Falster.
• Det Fynske landsby.
• Glud Museum.
• Den Gamle By – Aarhus.
• Frilandsmuseet – Hjerl Hede.
If you are considering building a house and looking for a finished result that signals beautiful architecture and classic Nordic quality, a new thatched roof might be for you. Besides their aesthetic and climate-friendly qualities, they have a proven longevity track record.