The importance of historic farm buildings

Three farm buildings

Thanks to Amanda Smith from English Heritage and member of the Environment Group for providing this guest post.

Historic farm buildings make a fundamental contribution to the landscape character and local distinctiveness of the region, and are an important part of our cultural heritage. They also represent a significant asset in terms of their capacity to adapt to accommodate new uses.

Traditional farm buildings, however, are under great pressure for change due to the restructuring of the agricultural industry and the high demand for their adaptive re-use, especially for housing. Only a small proportion of the historic farm building stock is subject to listing and statutory protection, and national studies have demonstrated that these designated assets have already undergone significant change.

Until recently there was a lack of an evidence base on the character and condition of the whole stock of historic farm buildings (not just designated assets) on which to inform the sensitive management of change and the effective targeting of conservation resources.

English Heritage is leading a collaborative project that will develop an evidence base for historic farmsteads across the West Midlands region.

The research aims to:

  • Inform options for future change for farmsteads in agricultural and other forms of use
  • Provide an understanding of the inherited character of farmsteads across the region, their contribution to local distinctiveness, and their social and economic role
  • Inform forward-looking policy and guidance, based on an understanding of local context and the potential for and sensitivity to change of farmsteads

The project takes forward the recommendations in the joint English Heritage and Countryside Agency publication Living Buildings in a Living Landscape: Finding a Future for Traditional Farm Buildings (2006, pdf, 4mb), and builds on a range of national research initiatives and pilot projects such as Historic Farm Buildings: Extending the Evidence Base (2009, pdf, 5.1mb)

The West Midlands Farmsteads and Landscape Project will deliver the following products for developing an evidence base and planning tools for informing future change:

Character framework in the form of a series of Farmstead Character Statements

Each statement will summarise the area’s historical development and landscape and settlement, the characteristic farmstead types, buildings, and materials, as well as key drivers for change, and their rarity and significance.

Region-wide farmsteads mapping programme

All of the region’s counties, and the metropolitan fringe, are subject to a programme of farmsteads mapping. This utilises mapped based data on the distribution and pattern of all farmsteads (using 19th century OS maps as a baseline). This is used to identify significant characteristics and degree of change, and to target more detailed field survey of farmstead character, condition and use. This GIS based data will enhance county Historic Environment Records and augment the Farmstead Character Statements.

Series of reports at a county and regional level

These will summarise and interpret the results of the farmsteads mapping and the character statements.

Regional level understanding of the current use and context of historic farmsteads

This utilises present day address and business data to analyse regional variations in the social and economic role of farmsteads.

Farmsteads Toolkit

The evidence base developed through the farmsteads mapping and character statements will inform the application of an assessment framework at an area and site level. Based on an understanding of the potential for, and sensitivity to, change of historic farmsteads this will help to inform policy, guidance and decision-making.

You can find further information about this project in the Farmsteads and Landscape Project Background Report (pdf, 440kb) or you can contact Amanda Smith from English Heritage at amanda.smith @

This project is due to report its findings by the end of March 2010 so keep an eye on this space where we will be sharing some of the key findings.

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