A group of small farmers and local residents have occupied an empty county council farm in Somerset in protest at the council’s plans to sell it, along with up to 43 other farms.

Balham Hill Farm, Chiselborough, Yeovil, was until recently farmed successfully by a tenant who opened a farm shop before moving away.

The council has now revealed its plans to sell the 39ha (96-acre) farm along with up to 2024ha (5000 acres) of other council-owned farmland.

The protesters arrived on the farm last week with a range of farm animals and reopened the farm shop to sell local produce.

“We have had two police visits but there is tremendous local support,” said Mary Durling, a smallholder at Tinkers Bubble, Stoke-sub-Hamden.

The farm had 17 applicants for its previous tenancy, and the protestors have vowed to stay put until the farm is withdrawn from sale.

However, Somerset County Council said it was in the process of obtaining an order for possession of Balham Hill Farm.

“It is most regrettable that this illegal action has been taken and it will not prevent the auctioning of the property.”

At least £1m from the farm sales would be used to support the wider rural economy via the Rural Regeneration Fund, added a spokeswoman.

olivia.cooper@rbi.co.uk