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Conversion of Traditional Farm Buildings

A guide to good practice

Traditional farm buildings are among the most ubiquitous of historic building types in the countryside. They are not only fundamental to its sense of place and local distinctiveness, but also represent a major economic asset in terms of their capacity to accommodate new uses. The restructuring of farming and other economic and demographic changes in the countryside provide both threats and opportunities in terms of retaining the historic interest in this building stock and its contribution to the wider landscape.

Historic farmsteads and their buildings make a fundamental contribution to the richly varied character of the English countryside. They illustrate the long history of farming and settlement in the landscape and exemplify the crafts and skills associated with local building materials and techniques.

The best option for retaining the overall historic and landscape integrity of traditional farming landscapes is, wherever possible, to keep buildings in active agricultural use of related low-key usage. Increasingly however, this is not possible. Where a local authority is satisfied that a traditional farm building no longer has a viable mainstream or low-key agricultural use, it may be prepared to grant permission for conversion to a new use.

The purpose of this guidance is to act as an aid to understanding traditional farm buildings to help inform change, as well as to provide practical technical and design advice so that farm buildings capable of conversion can be repaired and adapted for new uses in a sensitive way, while preserving their character, significance and landscape setting.

On 1 April 2015 the part of English Heritage represented on this website changed its name to Historic England. You may notice that some of our content still refers to English Heritage. We are in the process of rebranding, but in the meantime please be assured that all our content and guidance is still current.


We are now consulting (March 2017) on an updated and revised version of this document, now called The Adaptation of Traditional Farm Buildings. To supplement this guidance a Historic England Advice Note, titled The Adaptive Reuse of Traditional Farm Buildings, will set out the key principles to be considered when seeking to adapt traditional farm buildings.

The consultation closes on Friday 31 March 2017.


  • Introduction
  • The character of traditional farm buildings and their context
  • Adapting and repairing traditional farm buildings
  • Authorisation of works
  • Summary of good practice for the conversion of traditional farm buildings
  • Appendix: A guide to understanding traditional farm buildings and their capacity for change
  • Glossary of terms
  • Further sources of information

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Product Code: 51201


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