England's traditional farm buildings under threat

England's traditional farm buildings are fast disappearing according to the latest edition of Heritage Counts, the annual audit of the state of England's historic environment, published on 15 November 2005 by English Heritage on behalf of the heritage sector.

New evidence provided by English Heritage and the Countryside Agency in this year's audit reveals for the first time that traditional farm buildings are more at risk from pressures on the countryside than any other type of historic building. Of the half a million or so traditional farm buildings in England (of which more than 30,000 are listed), thousands of barns, outhouses, stables, byres, dovecots, wagon sheds and oast houses face disuse and dereliction.

"As recently as 20 years ago many ranges of traditional farm buildings were being swept aside to make way for large agricultural sheds and salvaged materials sold for beer money", comments Richard Skeates, Head of Lane Fox's Rural Practice & Estate Management Division. "These buildings are still being lost today not so much by demolition, but dereliction".

The value of traditional farm buildings cannot be underestimated at many levels. On the micro scale they add significantly to the value of the main farmhouse even in their unconverted form. They can be renovated with the benefit of various grants and their architecture and integrity preserved. Many are suitable for commercial use, or otherwise as homes or holiday lets, adding much needed income to farming businesses. These uses bring wider benefits to local communities and ultimately sympathetic conversion maintains our rural landscape for the benefit of many.

Cleverly renovated former farm buildings continue to attract buyers looking for a less conformist way of living, with many appreciating the unusual period features and unusual living spaces provided by these buildings.

Editor's Notes

Heritage Counts reports:

  • 73% of conservation officers reported a significant demand for the conversion of listed farm buildings into dwellings;
  • 57% of listed farms have been subject to a planning application since 1980, two-thirds of these to multiple applications;
  • 8 out of 10 planning applications for listed farms have been approved since 1980;
  • The pressure for conversion is further evidenced by a new photographic survey by English Heritage, which shows that one in three (32%) listed farm buildings has already been converted to non-agricultural uses, and the majority to residential use;
  • Conversion rates vary between building types but two-thirds of listed oast houses have been converted to residential use.

Lane Fox, 18.11.2005

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