Farmland availability in the south-west rose by 23% in the first six months of this year, compared with the same period in 2005. But strong demand, particularly from outside the area, is keeping prices firm.

The latest figures from Savills show that 18,413 acres were launched in the first half of the year – the first time that supply has risen, year-on-year, since 2002.

The rise is comparable with the English average, although slightly below the national increase of 30%.

The figures also hide a significant discrepancy among counties (see graph) – with supply in north Gloucestershire and Wiltshire actually dropping by 25% and 22%, respectively.

That compares with a massive 67% rise in south Somerset, a 47% hike in Devon and a 37% increase in Cornwall.

“Even though supply has gone up, values remain strong – there is a lot of demand, both from farmers and non-farmers,” said Savills’ David Cross.

“There has definitely been a greater selection than last year, but there’s no glut of big farms.

And we thought there was going to be more – the market started well and has slightly fizzled out for the autumn.”

Stags’ farm agent, Alex Rew, reckoned the rise in availability was down to the single farm payment.

“People now know what the figures are. Even so, there is still a relative scarcity of farms, particularly of anything commercial over 300 acres.”

The average farm size in the first half of this year was 182 acres – slightly smaller than last year.

And many of the smaller farms were attracting interest from outside the region, said Mr Rew.

“They are predominantly being bought as nice places to live, rather than out of a great will to farm.”

However, bucking that trend is the year’s largest offering so far – the Exmoor Forest Estate, Simonsbath, Somerset.

At 2080 acres, the estate is one of the largest areas of ring-fenced land in southern England.

It comes with two farmhouses, three bungalows and three cottages, with a further 3788 acres of land rented under a farm business tenancy from Exmoor National Park.

Offered for sale in two lots or as a whole for over £4.5m by joint agents Savills and Strutt & Parker, the estate generated a huge amount of interest before going to best and final offers last week.

“We had quite a number of good offers to consider, and the estate is now under offer as a whole,” said Strutt & Parker’s Robin Thomas, who refused to comment on the price achieved.

“But our clients are very pleased with the result.”