Natural England Traditional Farm Buildings in Agri-Environment Schemes

Barns and Walls in the Yorkshire Dales
Barns and Walls in the Yorkshire Dales (copyright Peter Gaskell)

From its inception over 30 years ago Agri-Environment Scheme (AES) policy has consistently recognised the importance of protecting and managing the historic environment, including traditional farm buildings, to secure a range of public goods for society. Although difficult to incorporate into modern farming systems, many traditional farm buildings are still used and retain a function. They are a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the countryside and help to define its landscape character and historic interest. Their significant contribution to a sense of place for rural communities and visitors, including those from abroad,  should not be underestimated. They display local distinctiveness in their construction and frequently house important historic fixtures and fittings.

Very few have statutory heritage designations and AES funding often provides a key support for their continued survival. Maintenance options aim to help owners keep them watertight and weatherproof. Under Countryside Stewardship alone nearly £14m is already committed to this ongoing work. This can be compared with the £2.5m and 1.5m points previously committed under Environmental Stewardship. This all ensures that buildings can be repaired and maintained using appropriate traditional materials and craft skills.

Historic threshing machine
Historic threshing machine preserved within a Northumberland Barn (copyright Peter Gaskell)

The essential wildlife surveys now required by option use confirm the importance of these buildings for birds and bats in particular and allow additional provision for these including nest boxes and maintained access points.   These all help with wider landscape scale ambitions for nature recovery.

The scheme options are only ever as good as their delivery on the ground allows. As part of the transition to the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes an assessment of the effectiveness and cultural value of these options was required to identify issues which need to be addressed during the remainder of existing agreements, identify areas of success and inform best practice for the development of ELM, and other funding opportunities, and establish baseline data for further monitoring.

This Natural England led and DEFRA funded monitoring and evaluation project was developed and delivered in hand with several Historic Environment partners including Historic England and the Association of Local Government Archaeologists (ALGAO).  It draws on, and complements, a range of work Historic England have undertaken on the nature and importance of farm buildings. It also usefully partners a Historic England led review of the recent traditional farm buildings restoration pilot project – also due for completion shortly.

A Barn Owl using a well maintained traditional farm building
A Barn Owl using a well maintained traditional farm building (copyright Margaret Nieke)

DEFRA Science have just published the research undertaken for us on this topic by the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) of the University of Gloucester Science Search ( .  It is and excellent, well illustrated read, and an important contribution to the study of traditional farm buildings and their maintenance.  Of particular note are the numerous quotes from owners which expand on the history of the buildings and their particular familiar connections to them.


The report is accompanied by 10 case studies from around England each of which present locally based insight into how maintenance has helped individual buildings.  These are encapsulated in the main report but also available as stand-alone copies.


If you have any comments or queries, please contact




1 N Northumberland Coastal Plain farmsteads.pdf
2.37 MB
2 Mid Severn Sandstone Plateau.pdf
1.87 MB
3 Leicestershire Vales.pdf
2.09 MB
4 Yorkshire Dales.pdf
2.74 MB
5 Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire Claylands.pdf
2.18 MB
6 South Suffolk and North Essex Clayland.pdf
1.67 MB
7 Herefordshire Plateau.pdf
933.4 KB
8 Shropshire Hills.pdf
665.94 KB
9 Severn and Avon Vales.pdf
932 KB
10 Suffolk Coast & Heaths.pdf
1.53 MB