Farming News - Tourism Minister hears about the benefits of temporary campsites on farm visit

Tourism Minister hears about the benefits of temporary campsites on farm visit

13 Sep 2021
Frontdesk / Finance

The Minister for Sport and Tourism, Nigel Huddleston MP, heard first-hand on Friday, September 10th, how a relaxation in planning regulations is providing a much-needed boost for rural communities.

Mr Huddleston was visiting Little Fish Meadow, a campsite near Upton upon Severn to hear how many farmers and land-based businesses have taken advantage of relaxed Permitted Development Rights enabling them to operate tent campsites for 56 days in England and Wales without needing to apply for planning permission. 

Campsite operator and organic farmer Oliver Surman told Mr Huddleston how his campsite had enabled his farm to generate and expand a revenue stream, while supporting local businesses that have suffered during the COVID pandemic.

“We’ve had more than 350 bookings this year,” Oliver said.

“I would estimate that everyone who stays with us spends between £25 and £30 a day with surrounding businesses which has a really positive impact on the local economy.”

The change in regulations was introduced in July 2020 to help the rural economy recover from the COVID pandemic, as well as providing much needed extra capacity for staycationers.

Previously, farmers and land-based businesses had only been able to operate temporary campsites for 28 days per year without applying for planning permission, which put many of them off from trying. 

The regulations are due to revert back to this limit in England at the end of this year. 

But Oliver told the minister the change to 56 days, coupled with the challenging economic outlook for agriculture, will have been the ‘tipping point’ that prompted many farmers to finally set one up.

He said: “We run a number of diversification activities on the farm including camping, but we hadn’t got round to maximising it as a business opportunity. 

“But COVID prompted us to do that, so we listed the campsite on booking website Pitchup.com for the first time last summer, in time for the easing of the first lockdown.

“I’ve been blown away by the response. People have been coming from all over and seem to be having a wonderful experience. Often, they’ve never camped before and turn up with a tent straight from the outdoor shop that they don’t know how to put up, but they soon figure it out.”

Oliver and his parents rear 200 head of organic Aberdeen Angus x Hereford beef stores on the farm as well as growing organic potatoes and cereal crops.

They also run a number of diversification projects including a music festival, a triathlon, an organic ready meals business, Pegoty Hedge, and the campsite, which is nestled in a five-acre field next to the River Severn. 

Oliver said: “The 56 day rule has made it possible for a lot of farmers across England and Wales to open a campsite for the first time, as many didn't feel 28 days was long enough for it to be viable. 

“This has been fantastic for the farmers themselves, and has had significant benefits for wider rural communities.

“For example, pretty much everyone who stays with us walks across to the village.

“They may buy ice creams in the afternoon, perhaps hire a canoe or boat and go on the river, have lunch and drinks in the local pub and in the evening, go into the town.

“Upton is a tourist town and without visitors it would suffer. Campsites like ours are a fantastic way to boost visitor numbers during peak season when demand is at its highest and with the extended planning regulations in place, that is happening all across England and Wales.”

Mr Huddleston, who is also MP for Mid Worcestershire, said he was delighted to see local businesses adapting to the challenges of the past two years.

“The regulations were changed for precisely this reason,” he said.

“Oliver has made a great success of Little Fish Meadow, and this has had a significant trickle-down effect to surrounding businesses, helping them all to recover.

“This is a great example of communities working together and supporting each other through very challenging times.”

The visit was organised by Pitchup.com to demonstrate how successful temporary campsites have been in helping rural communities get back on their feet.

Official figures show that farm incomes fell by nine per cent and seven per cent* respectively in the two years up to the pandemic and figures from Visit Britain reveal that domestic tourism lost more than £140bn** of spending in 2020/21, a 41 per cent decline on 2019.

Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup, said temporary campsites are a quick, easy, and effective way to redress some of the balance.

One working farm listed on Pitchup.com has generated nearly £120,000 in extra revenue in pitch fees alone from a temporary campsite this year, and many others have made in excess of £50,000.

As a whole, pop-up campsites have injected more than £17m*** into the rural economy this year, and with some able to stay open until October half term, this number is set to rise.

Mr Yates said: “The 56-day extension has been a godsend for many working farms and rural communities.

“Setting up a temporary campsite is an easy way to address the issue of falling farm incomes while providing holidaymakers with access to some of the UK’s most spectacular countryside.

“They require no development and cause minimum disruption to landowners and communities, and figures show visitors spend more than £30 per day offsite*** with local businesses.

“This means whole communities share in the benefits of even a single site. We’re delighted the minister has been able to hear about the fantastic impact campsites are having first-hand and hope that further flexibility over Permitted Development Rights and licensing will be granted for 2022.”