Appeal court judges have ruled in favour of a farm which erected polytunnels without an environmental impact assessment on land in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Local campaigners battled to have the polytunnels on Homme Farm, near Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, pulled down.

The campaign group, Wye Valley Action Association, became the centre of national media attention when it won a High Court victory last year.

The judge ruled that Herefordshire council should not have granted planning permission for polytunnels’ use without first requiring an environmental impact assessment.

But on Wednesday 26 January three appeal court judges overturned that decision and, in a double blow to their campaign, refused the WVAA right to take their fight to the Supreme Court.

The judges ruled that the council’s initial decision, which was made because the 377 hectares involved were already used for farming, was a “rational conclusion”.

Lord Justice Richards told the court: “Landscape beauty can arise not just from the natural or semi-natural features of an area but also from the appearance of the cultivated land within that area.”

The council’s appeal was supported by the NFU, whose QC, Timothy Straker, argued that environmental impact assessments were only necessary where proposed polytunnel sites were “largely untouched by man”.

The appeal judges said that interpretation was too broad, but accepted that cultivated land “does not become semi-natural just because it is included in a designated AONB”.

• When controversy blew up over polytunnels last year, Farmers Weekly had a rather unusual phone call from Radio 4’s flagship news show, The Today programme. It ended up with Farmlife editor Tim Relf appearing on the show. Read the story – and listen to the clip.