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CPRE Report on 'County Farms'

Neville Loder, a Dorset Council farm tenant, in white shirt telling CPRE members about individual cows from within his herd Neville Loder, a Dorset Council farm tenant, in white shirt telling CPRE members about individual cows from within his herd

16th December 2019

CPRE has launched a brand new report on the future of county farms

There are far fewer county farms now than in the past. The area of England that these farms cover has dropped by around half since the late 1970s, when the effects of privatisation and cuts began to be felt. Land from these farms has been sold off, meaning there are fewer opportunities for future generations to move into farming.


What is a county farm?
These kinds of farms, usually owned and run by local councils, were set up at the end of the 19th century to provide a way into farming, and they still allow these opportunities today – including for young people who might not otherwise have a route into farming.
Many of these farms have evolved in exciting and innovative ways. These include trying out new business models such as farm shops and cafés, agroforestry (where trees are grown around farmland) and other environmentally friendly ways of managing land. Some councils with county farms have described the brilliant benefits they provide, ranging from tree planting to local education initiatives to, of course, continuing to support new farmers.
Dorset Council and its tenanted farms 
As reported in our Autumn Review, Shaun Leavey, Farming Adviser to Dorset CPRE, wrote 'One piece of good news amidst the general gloom.  Dorset Council is being widely commended both for retaining its farm estate and its recent policy of initiating a structure of starter and promotion units across its 2,500 hectares.  Starter tenancies are for 10 years and promotion holdings are let for 15 to 20 years.  With 41 farms it is significant that the Council has 60% of them in dairying and 40% in livestock production.  Both sectors are of course especially vulnerable to a No Deal Brexit.  With so many large estates within the county my own view is that it would be good to see some of our private landlords giving consideration to offering tenancies to those who emerge from the promotion holdings at the conclusion of their Council tenancies. All of this has featured prominently in a recent edition of Farmers Weekly with examples of individual tenants at varying stages in their progression through the structure.
Dorset Council's county farms estate on BBC Countryfile
The Dorset Council's county farms estate was featured on BBC Countryfile on 15th December. CPRE were interviewed and called on local councils to protect, invest and promote county farms. You can watch it here on BBC iPlayer (from 15.00 mins)
Reviving county farms key findings
The key findings from Reviving county farms, which is a report prepared for CPRE by the New Economics Foundation, Shared Assets and Who Owns England?, show that:
  • More than 50% of county farm estates have disappeared over the past 40 years;
  • More than 15,000 acres (7%) of this has been lost in the past decade alone;
  • Almost 60% of county farm land sold since 2010 has been in the past two years;
  • Austerity, coupled with a sense that county farms are ‘a thing of the past’, and an unwillingness by some councils to innovate to develop new income streams or business models, is driving the decline of county farms;
  • Councils that have taken very different approaches, leading them to protect and even expand their county farm estates, have yielded positive results;
  • County farms could play an important role in addressing the climate emergency and also deliver benefits to local communities, such as providing locally-grown food for nearby schools; and
  • Seven out of nine councils that responded to the survey gave details of environmental and social benefits provided by their county farms, ranging from tree planting, to local education initiatives, to supporting new farmers.
Please see below a copy of Reviving county farms report.


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