Farming the Historic Landscape

Why care for historic farm buildings?

It is important that traditional farm buildings are cared for because:

  • They are a vital element in defining the character of the countryside
  • They are a finite historical and archaeological asset, forming an important resource for understanding the development of farming in an area
  • They may be listed buildings, or lie within the curtilage of a listed building, and so are legally protected
  • They often have a wildlife benefit, for example, as bat roosts
  • They are economically valuable. Many farm buildings have the potential for alternative uses; protecting the asset now may mean a future project will be financially viable
  • They represent significant environmental capital in their materials and construction

Wherever possible, historic farm buildings should be kept in active farm use, as this is the best way of safeguarding their historic character. Funding for their maintenance and repair may be available from Defra, from English Heritage or from some local authorities (see contact details on the back page).

Listed buildings

Listed buildings are protected under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 because they are considered to have special architectural or historic interest. Copies of the Lists of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest are available at the offices of local planning authorities.

Works that affect the character or interest of a listed building or a building erected within the curtilage of a listed building prior to 1948 will require Listed Building Consent. Works that require consent can range from demolition to re-painting.

General maintenance and like-for-like repairs do not require permission, but local authorities may require a consent application for larger programmes of work, such as re-roofing. It is a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised works and the penalties for this can be heavy. If there is uncertainty about whether Listed Building Consent is required or not, contact the Local Authority Conservation Officer.

Maintenance and repair

The regular inspection, maintenance and repair of traditional buildings is essential if expensive future repairs are to be avoided. Water is the biggest enemy of most historic buildings. Ensuring that a roof remains watertight can prevent serious damage to timber roof structures. Keeping gutters and downpipes correctly aligned and clear of leaves and other debris will prevent water over-spilling and running down walls, damaging weather-boarding, timber-framing, or washing mortar from masonry, all of which damages the fabric. Earth-walled buildings are particularly susceptible to damage from water penetration. Climbing plants such as ivy can keep areas of a building damp, damage masonry and hide defects that, if left unattended, could result in the need for costly repairs. Such maintenance usually requires no special skills or equipment other than the proper use of a ladder.

Repairs to a traditional farm building should be undertaken in a sensitive way using appropriate materials, techniques and styles. Where possible, repair existing features rather than replace with new. Using the wrong material could result in damage to the building. For example, using cement mortars instead of lime mortar for historic masonry can result in spalling and erosion, leading to the need for expensive repairs. Earth-built structures are particularly vulnerable when cement renders are used. The use of inappropriate materials or techniques may affect the special character or interest of the building: if in doubt, seek advice.

For simple on-line advice on building maintenance, visit

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