Memorandum submitted by the Institute
of Historic Building Conservation (A11)
How better stewardship of agricultural land can
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
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
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. Examplein 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. Examplethe 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. Examplethe creation of water reed
beds can help managing watercourses and provide a local building
Small scale extraction of clay and
river sands on appropriate farms can provide local building materials,
help retain local distinctiveness and help supplement farming
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.
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