Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (A11)

How better stewardship of agricultural land can be promoted

  In some parts of the country over a third of the historic building stock in the countryside is at risk as a result of disrepair and lack of use. This represents a major waste of resources and a lost opportunity to manage the countryside in a more sustainable manner.

  This inquiry coincides with a study the IHBC is currently undertaking into the problems of traditional buildings in the countryside. It is recognised that these cannot be dealt with in isolation from the wider issues involved in agriculture. Nor should the future of agriculture be discussed in isolation from the rest of the countryside issues. IHBC feels that it can make a contribution to the discussion on the future of agriculture from the traditional building perspective drawing on the expertise of its members who deal with these problems on a daily basis.

  The following issues are direct concerns of the IHBC. These are given as bullet points and the IHBC would welcome the opportunity to offer more information on any aspects;

  Existing farm buildings

    —  Embodied energy of existing farm building stock is a major resource.

    —  Farm buildings are rarely redundant, they can always be used for low grade storage uses. Their perceived redundancy relates more to the level of farming operation and increasingly large machinery used for handling crops.

    —  Existing buildings form part of the character of the landscape which is a major national cultural asset.

    —  The traditional landscape is an essential element in the tourism industry. Decay and dilapidation significantly reduce the tourism potential of an area.

    —  There is an increasing awareness of the cultural importance of farming heritage.

    —  Farmsteads provide, in many cases, the only evidence there is for farming history and how people manage the land in the past.

  Immediate level of technology

    —  There is increasing unease about the globalisation of food production. Locally produced food, whether or not organic, is increasingly at a premium, hence the rapidly growing popularity of Farmers Markets.

    —  Most farming operations can be undertaken with medium-sized machinery which could be accommodated in existing buildings, albeit modified. This may require more labour in some cases, which could be cheaper than the capital intensive large scale machinery.

    —  Traditional farm buildings can be used for storage of produce to be sold regularly at Farmers Markets, rather than selling the entire crop.


    —  Diversification should make a contribution to a sustainable management of the countryside, not a one-off benefit to an individual farmer through the conversion of farm buildings to other (usually residential) uses.

    —  Diversification into traditional building skills and crafts can promote sustainable development and repair of traditional buildings

    1.  Example—in South Shropshire, three farmers are quarrying stone on a very small scale about 1,000 tons per annum to provide local stone for repair in traditional buildings. This helps retain the local distinctiveness and brings in a regular income to supplement farming income.

    2.  Example—the small scale growth of straw for thatching can meet a local need for traditional building material and bring in a regular income to supplement farming income.

    3.  Example—the creation of water reed beds can help managing watercourses and provide a local building material

    —  Small scale extraction of clay and river sands on appropriate farms can provide local building materials, help retain local distinctiveness and help supplement farming income.

    —  There is potential for developing more sustainable building materials such as sheep wool for insulation. This also avoids the health hazards (not publicised) of fibre glass. This is currently imported but there is no reason why it could not be produced on a large scale in this country.

  General Points

    —  The assumption that farms need to be large, around 300 acres to be viable should be questioned.

    —  The IHBC is commissioning a study to look into the nature and extent of the problems of "buildings at risk" in the rural areas; and to suggest ways forward for tackling them. This will include investigating some of the points raised above.

    —  It is considered important that policy makers talk directly to farmers to seek their views. Local and national Young Farmers groups could make a valuable contribution.

  The IHBC will be pleased to provide any more information you may require on any of these points.

Institute of Historic Building Conservation

11 December 2001

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