The UK government must introduce legislation to prevent the sale of county farms and ensure investment in their future, says the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).
In a report launched today (Monday 16 December) and prepared by the New Economics Foundation, Shared Assets and Who Owns England?, the charity states council-owned farms are in terminal decline, and future generations won’t benefit from the assets.
County farms were set up at the end of the 19th century to provide a way into farming and have a huge potential to generate income, promote innovative farming methods and deliver environmentally sustainable farming, according to the Reviving county farms report.
It says the area of county farms in England has fallen by more than half since the late 1970s, from 172,000ha to just under 85,000ha.
More than 6,000ha (7%) of council-owned farmland has been lost in the past decade alone, with 60% of this land sold off in the past two years.
Based on a survey with responses from nine councils, the report states that the decline is driven by austerity, a sense that county farms are “a thing of the past”, and an unwillingness to be innovative and develop new income streams or business models.
It adds that the councils that have protected or expanded their farm estates have seen positive results.
Graeme Willis, agriculture lead at CPRE, said: “Our research shows that the number of county farms in England continues to plummet alarmingly at a time when these wonderful assets should be protected and invested in to ensure they’re available for future generations.
“CPRE is calling on the government to introduce legislation to stop the sale of county farms and to give them a new purpose. A package of measures and new funding to enable councils to enhance, invest in their estates and better promote them is urgently needed.”