Crop: Triticum aestivum L. subsp. aestivum (Soft wheat)

Aquila is a wheat landrace grown specifically for use in thatching. The grain is a by-product and is not consumed as a cereal crop but saved to sow the next years crop. Some of the seed, if surplus, may be given or sold to other growers (Thatch Advice Centre (a), 2019). This sees a flow of genetic material between growers who may or may not be located close to one another. Straw of aquila grows to around 5 feet tall which is regarded as a good length for thatch straw. Additionally, it is said to have a small, light head of grain which helps reduce instances of lodging and resulting yield loss.

Cultivation System: ND

Geographical Information

Country: United Kingdom

This landrace is grown in South Somerset in a fairly large quantity. It is not a modern thatch variety, so cultivation is not thought to be common practice, with many thatchers preferring modern varieties.

Farmer(s) description:

Aquila wheat is traditionally grown for thatch material and was reportedly introduced in 1976 (Thatch Advice Centre (b), 2019). It is grown in more significant amounts than some other landraces as it may be used to supply several thatching providers. Harvesting of this landrace requires specialist equipment and knowledge as it must be cut, stitched, and placed in stooks in the field to dry. The equipment can be expensive and difficult to source parts for to repair, and this may be a significant barrier to prospective growers.

As well as being grown for straw, seed is also saved by growers for sowing the next crop, while excess seed is sold to other maintainers. Main constraints described by maintainers of this landrace included storage of the seed for sowing the next year. Problems with rats and damp were described, as well as issues with stored seed having low viability. The severity of these issues was described as being minor, with significantly less than 50% of the seed being affected. The maximum period of successful seed storage was 2 years, and for this the seed was dressed in fungicide and rodenticide to prevent damage.

Aquila may not be the only thatch straw a maintainer grows. Some prefer to rotate through a select few different thatch landraces, choosing what to grown next year based on preference, stored seed, and weather predictions.

Propagation system: Seed, self-pollination

Multiplication procedures and consequences on landrace diversity:

Aquila is an autogamous crop. It is planted in autumn and harvested in summer. A binder is used to cut and bind the straw, and it can later be threshed for grain. The grain gives seed which is saved by growers years on year. It may be sold or given to other growers.

Management plan existence:

Aquila management relies solely on maintainers of the landrace.

Added Values

Market - existing and novel:

In southern England a tradition of thatching with wheat straw has survived, creating a demand for wheat thatch straw (Veteläinen et al., 2009). Aquila is commonly grown to supply thatchers. There are some thatchers who grow their own supply and store seed for sowing the next year’s crop. There is a demand for the seed amongst growers and is sometimes sold at the cost of feed due to it being an unregistered variety.

Some recommend against aquila for thatching, citing a shorter straw length, but others prefer this material. It gives a hollow straw which is preferred by some thatchers as it minimises the risk of the straw soaking up water while on the roof, thus adversely affecting the lifespan of the thatch.

Others (e.g. commercial/geographical brands or special traits):

Aquila does not appear to be of much interest apart from to those who prefer its qualities for thatching. It is not endorsed by the Thatch Advice Centre (Thatch Advice Centre (b), 2019).

There does not currently appear to be any external support for this landrace. Currently no Aquila (or any wheat landrace) is grown in Scotland, excluding it from SASA’s Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme. There is, however, one SASA accession of ‘red standard’ variety acquired in the 1950s from a farm store does exist, though it is not available (, 2019). This suggests that should this variety be cultivated in Scotland it would be afforded some protection.

As there is currently no external support for this landrace it is at risk of disappearing. Currently it is being maintained by a number of thatch growers who prefer its qualities for thatching. Should this interest wain, the landrace may be at risk.

Unknown – the seed can be sources from growers when there is a surplus but there does not appear to be any formal accessions.

Case study provided by University of Birmingham, United Kingdom.