Spring’s here, let talk Thatch and Tanks!

Musings of a Country Lawyer – both A-musing and B-musing!

Jennie Vaughan-Jackson of Porter Dodson raises some interesting thoughts about 2 important facets of country living that don’t seem to challenge her city slickers.

It is lovely to see the sun again. My usual commute is cheered by the bright green of the new leaves, the yellow primroses and the resurgent potholes after the winter rains – not too bad this year as the rains were not too bad either!

I always wondered why the folk song ‘as I walked out one midsummer morning’ goes on to say between banks of bright primroses. They have gone by midsummer so I would have said a springtime morning. Or maybe the seasons hadn’t shifted so far in the days that the folk song was written. Another one chalked up to global warming.

Mark you, I shouldn’t have been looking at the primroses or the potholes when I came round the bend into the path of the thatcher’s pickup. Luckily we passed in good order. The thatch he was doing has been coming along brilliantly and I wonder whether it will get a decorative animal?

I have thatch and don’t have any ornaments on the roof but I have spotted at least two hares, a cat sliding down a ‘catslide’ roof, two pheasants and, (on one adventurous roof), a fox being chased by a hound! These lovely straw creations are clearly a step beyond the spar patterns on the ridge that used to be such a signature for each thatcher.

When I moved to the area from practising in London and Oxford, I found that I was required to know things about property that I had never guessed at. Thatch for a start… Combed wheat reed, water read, long straw, wrap-over ridge or block cut; to wire (or not to wire, that is the question); only a couple of insurance companies will insure; the problem with wood burners (a good combo with thatch? The debate rages); re ridge three times in a coat, try and get the lee side to last longer than the weather side and spread the cost… So much to consider and draw to your client’s attention.

And drains. Yes, the heart and soul of all conveyancing matters it seems. Where are they? Who maintains them? Who shares them? And now the Binding Rules for septic tanks are changing. Why is it that the Environment Agency has a blind spot about septic tanks? They seem to think these are rare and niche when they are a fact of life and part of the infrastructure in our area.

There was the joyous time when they thought all tanks should be registered. With a blinding lack of understanding, they decided to request that all owners should report to the EA to have their tanks recorded with details of the volume used and compliance with regulations. The Romans would have been proud of them.

I think it was just as well that the initial number of applications swamped them enough to deflect that initiative. Instead, they came up with the Binding Rules – essential reading for all tank owners (if you persevere for long enough in the Environment Agency website you will find them). However, as of January 2020, any tank discharging into a water course or stream must cease to do so.

The cost of a new system could be as much as £6,000, which is eye watering, so start saving and check what your tank is up to! The tell tale clump of nettles is helpful in finding the tank but not a good sign. Septic tanks bio-digest if they are healthy and have the right bacteria. You don’t need to empty them too frequently if they are working properly – a friend of mine fed live yogurt to hers but I have no idea if it works.

Clean water run off comes from the tank to a dispersal field; be it a herring bone field or a perforated pipe, or similar system which lets the clear water run in to the ground where any remaining cleansing happens. A few tanks run off into a running water-filled ditch or stream or river and because the run off is not 100% clean, these are the tanks which will have to be re-done.

You can get an aerobic treatment system which is driven by electricity and actively improves the treatment so the water is clean when it leaves the tank and can go into a watercourse. Or you have to put in a new conventional system somewhere where it doesn’t go into a watercourse. This pre-supposes you know exactly where your tank is, what it is and where the run-off goes anyway. I have seen tanks the size of nuclear bunkers or ones which only seem to be the size of a bathtub.

‘Sceptic tanks’ , as so many agents and solicitors call them without correcting the spellchecker, are of course more usual, but you may already have a Klargester mini treatment system which will do or, horror of horrors, do you, without knowing, have a cesspit?

I think in all my years practising here I have only conveyed one house with a cesspit, which is a sealed system that has to be pumped out when full and has no digestive action. Once every month, or two at max, you have to get a waste management firm to pump it out – and close all the windows in the house while you do it! Don’t run a washing machine or you get bubbles all over the garden. They are truly mediaeval.

Why is this the second blog that has come back to this slightly smelly subject? It must be the down to earth country living!

Jennie Vaughan-Jackson, Residential Property Lawyer at Porter Dodson Solicitors (https://www.porterdodson.co.uk/)