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Rural Buildings and Landscapes NHPP 4F1

Research carried out 2012-2015, concerned with assessing our heritage of rural buildings, which make such a strong contribution to the distinctive and celebrated character of the English landscape. This work formed part of the National Heritage Protection Plan.

A line drawing of a farmstead from Kent
A line drawing of a traditional farmstead showing how understanding its setting and how the whole site has changed can inform options for sustainable development. © Drawing copyright Forum Heritage Services

Scope of the activity

This Activity focused on the rural building types that are most threatened by poor knowledge, development and redundancy. The activity increased understanding of priority areas or types of building that are undergoing most change and that make the strongest contribution to England’s richly varied landscape.

Redundant rural buildings, and in particular farm buildings, emerged as a priority for a constructive approach to conservation and to adaptive reuse, informing agri-environment as well as planning policy. This work built on the results of existing research and our previous guidance.

Expected protection results

  • We developed our understanding of rural heritage and inform change, which can conserve and enhance the distictive and hugely varied character of England's rural landscapes and settlements.
  • We aimed to continue to develop appropriate levels of protection that are best fitted to their historic character and significance. Designation (e.g. giving listed buildings status) is only one level of protection that may be appropriate in some circumstances.
  • This Activity provided useful guidance and other information to support the work of local and strategic planning, Historic Environment Records and of volunteer and community groups.

A famstead, Kirkheugh
A traditional farmstead at Kirkheugh, Northumberland

Projects in this activity

Farmsteads assessment guidance

The functional redundancy and dereliction of historic farm buildings is an ongoing challenge for those who care for the historic environment.

We developed the following range of documents to provide a consistent framework to inform decision-making by all those involved in the conservation, recording, reuse and development of traditional farmsteads and their buildings:

  • Farmstead Assessment Frameworks, which provide a step-by-step approach to considering the reuse of traditional farm buildings and the sustainable development of farmsteads, at the earliest stage in the planning process.
  • Farmsteads Character Statements that use a consistent format and standard terminology to help users identify their historic character and significance of farmsteads and their buildings in their landscape context.

At a national level, we produced a Farmstead Assessment Framework and Farmsteads Character Statement, with additional guidance for the main Farm Building Types.

We also developed a simple Farmsteads Character Statement for South East England, following evidence gathering undertaken with Natural England and in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire.

The approach has now been developed in different forms, in partnership with Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Local Authorities, apadpting templates which economise on the costs of producing bespoke guidance at a local level.

These include guidance to help applicants and their professional advisers approach design, including the siting of new buildings. This farmstead design guidance was piloted in Kent. Guidance will also help consider appopriate levels of recording and research, for example in Kent and Worcestershire and in partnership with the Wiltshire Buildings Record.

Assessment guidance has been completed for Kent Downs farmsteads and for farmsteads in Worcestershire. This activity provided support for the production of farmstead guidance for Lincolnshire and the Dartmoor, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District National Parks.

Click on the links above to see the local websites for more details.

We are also developing illustrated Farmsteads and Landscapes Statements, for each of England’s National Character Areas, aimed at those making decisions that can affect the rural environment including the delivery of agri-environment schemes.

The statements will incorporate the results of the Future of Rural Settlement (see below) and the Fieldscapes of England projects. A number are available as drafts, please see the list of draft National Character Area statements. You can get PDFs of those that interest you by emailing

The statements and other data developed under the NHPP activity for Agriculture and Forestry Impacts will complement and provide support to revision of these areas by Natural England.

Farmsteads mapping

Farmsteads mapping (in areas such as the Derbyshire Peak, completed in April 2014) has added over 30,000 sites to Historic Environment Recordss and provided a methodology for flagging heritage potential for planning and pre-application advice that can be applied to other rural building/site types.

Informed Conservation book for the North Pennines

English Heritage published An Informed Conservation publication: Alston Moor: Buildings in a North Pennines Landscape in July 2013. This summarised the results of a 3-year project that has combined architectural with archaeological field survey.

The analysis of buildings focused on their role in the lead and mineral mining industry and the area’s place in the history of cross-border conflict between England and Scotland.

Wiltshire buildings dendrochronology

The Wiltshire Buildings Record has helped to provide precise dating for some very significant medieval houses. Some results were published as part of the Historic England Research Reports series. The results were also summarised by an article in Volume 44 of Vernacular Architecture journal, published in December 2013.

Reconstruction drawing of Low Park, Alston Moor by Allan A Adam
Reconstruction drawing of Low Park, Alston Moor by Allan A Adam

Links to other NHPP activities and projects

There are many links to all of the Measures in NHPP, because it is vital to:

  • Understand, assess and determine the most appropriate response to the threats to rural buildings (Measures 1 and 2)
  • Appropriate means of assessment (Measure 4) to inform the full range of protection options (Measure 5)
  • Provided timely, constructive advice on managing major change to the historic environment (Measure 6)

The most significant specific links were:

  • 2A1: Development Pressure, because rural buildings are an integral part of highly varied patterns of settlement that are subject to different patterns of change
  • 2D1: Agriculture and Forestry Impacts, which included updating of EH policy on farm buildings and the contribution that our research can make to the future shape of the agri-environment schemes and Natural England's revision of the National Character Areas.
  • 4F2 Field Systems, because rural buildings and in particular farmsteads are an integral part of the enclosed land that covers most of our rural landscapes

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