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Farm diversification idea - popup campsites

Farm Diversification Idea – Campsites

According to one UK campsite website, bookings for places to pitch tents or park caravans and motor homes has jumped by almost 300% in the past year. The driving factor? COVID-19.

More and more people in the UK are choosing to staycation for the second year in a row. With international travel restrictions in constant flux and some airlines refusing refunds, people just don’t want to travel abroad.

As a result, demand for staycations in the UK has surged. Hotels and B&Bs are at maximum capacity, and campsites are overwhelmed.

For many farmers, this has presented the perfect opportunity to diversify. Turning farmland into pop-up campsites is proving to be hugely beneficial for farmers looking to find a new source of income. One farmer received bookings worth over £50,000 in the first week.

So, can anyone do it? And what do you need to cash in on this trend? Keep reading as we have the answers below.

Pop-Up Campsites On Farmland – The Legalities

PDR rules for popup campsites for motorhomes

As many farmers are aware, agricultural land is some of the most closely controlled land in the UK. Land with the specific legal “farmland” designation cannot easily be changed or used for anything else. To use agricultural land for anything other than farming activities requires a “change of use.”

Or at least, it used to be like that. Due to the massive impact COVID-19 has had on the farming community, the government introduced a policy change to help farmers generate additional income. In this case, they changed the policy controlling what agricultural land can be used for.

The newly adapted Permitted Development Rights (PDRs) now means farmers can use the land for non-agricultural purposes in order to generate income. During challenging times, this was meant to provide a short-term boost for farmers.

In reality, it has created a new trend of pop-up campsites allowing farmers to make vast amounts of money from tourism – which judging by the current trends, is likely to continue.

The PDR Rules

Currently, the amended PDR rules only apply to the end of 2021. However, it’s likely that farmers will apply for permission to have permanent campsites for at least a little bit longer. Staycations and camping holidays look like they are here to stay.

Different parts of the UK may have slightly different regulations regarding which farmland areas can be used as campsites. Hence, farmers will need to check with their local authority to ensure the area they plan to diversify can actually be used for that purpose.

Farmers also need to clarify when the new campsite will be open – is it just for the summer holidays? Outside of school holidays? Over half term or the Easter break? And it will be helpful to confirm the nature of the campsite – will it just be for tents, or caravans and motorhomes.

Currently, it’s more of a formality to ensure health and safety is adhered to and that no one is breaking the law – as farmers usually do not need a permit or a license for a campsite lasting up to 60 days. Any longer than this, and a permit is normally required. Applying for a permit can cost up to £600, but depending on the location, it can actually be free.

The only real exceptions to PDR are in places like natural parks, areas of outstanding beauty, or controlled areas. The rules tend to be stricter in these locations, though it is still reasonably straight forward to set up a campsite. However, it is better to check with the authorities beforehand so you can be safe rather than sorry.

The other major stipulation of a pop-up campsite is that the land must not be permanently damaged.

Farmers can erect semi-permanent structures without planning permission, but only if they can be removed easily without impacting the ground it stands on. Examples of this would be toilet and shower blocks or electricity points for motorhomes. You can construct semi-permanent cabins, so long as they can be removed at a later date.

What Makes A Good Pop-Up Campsite?

Walking around a popup campsite on farmland

Farmers who want to attract more tourists to come and stay will affiliate themselves with online companies that advertise campsite spaces around the UK. These websites either charge a small fee or take a small percentage of bookings, and in return, will advertise the farmers campsite on the internet.

Some of these affiliate camping clubs will also visit the farmland to check the quality of the campsite area and can help the farmer determine what is a reasonable price per night. In these cases, the higher quality campsites can charge higher fees and will receive a certificate to prove that the campsite has been checked. But what makes a good campsite?

The ground: Perhaps the most crucial part of creating a decent pop-up campsite is ensuring that the ground is sound and good. Swamps, bogs, wetlands that flood quickly, rocky soil, and steep slopes make for bad camping sites. Flat, even land with few stones and good grass coverage is ideal.

Farmers should also consider the land around the camping area. Many people will want to explore the local area or perhaps take a direct shortcut into the local town or village. If the land nearby is boggy, it could quickly become messy and inaccessible due to the foot traffic.

The surrounding area: Many campers are happy to set up anywhere which has flat ground, but for others, the area needs to have a little more. Trees that provide shade and privacy is always a good thing. They can also act as a windbreak.

Farmers can opt to put up temporary wooden screens to help with privacy. The screen should be moveable depending on the size of the tent or motorhome. Don’t forget, some campers will have hammocks or covers and will want to tie them off, so the more options, the better. Wooden poles and fences which they can use will be helpful.

Facilities: Additional facilities will be required depending on the type of campsite and the existing facilities already available on the farm.

Electric plug-in points are vital for sites with caravans and motorhomes, whereas facilities like toilets (and showers) are generally built into a caravan or motorhome, so these are not necessary. Although a clean water supply for all camper types is a must.

For tents, farmers may need to invest in sanitary toilets and shower blocks. It’s crucial to remember that the structures cannot be permanent. There must be enough toilets, showers, and water points to keep everyone happy, clean, and safe. Most local authorities will have guidance regarding the minimum number of toilets and showers required per camper.

Other facilities like an on-site farm shop or cafe are a bonus but not necessary. Designated BBQ areas for outdoor cooking are also a big attraction to many campers.

The Farm: Whilst diversifying into pop-up camping is another revenue stream, life on an active farm is probably still ongoing. Pop-up campsites should not interfere with farm activities, be too close to livestock, chemicals, feed or machinery. Some campers staying at the camp site may have young children and safety is very important.  

Farmers also need to consider noise issues – no happy camper wants to wake up at 5am every day as the cows go in for milking. Campers will generally prefer quiet locations so they can get some rest, but you should also consider noise for other locals. Campers having a BBQ until 2am right next to your neighbours won’t make anyone happy.

Standing Out In The Crowd

Toilet facilities for popup campsites in the uk

Demand for camping has soared with representatives from areas such as the Lake District, trying to encourage farmers to diversify into a pop-up campsites to stop people from wild camping illegally.

This could lead to a considerable amount of competition for farmers looking to diversify into camping sites.

To help attract more visitors, certain farmers are promoting diversification in other ways. Offering tours of the farm, the chance to spend time with livestock, and other unique experiences can help to bring in visitors and boost income.

Rural tourism will likely remain popular for at least another year as people look to spend time outside, so now is the perfect time to get involved and cash in on one of the biggest diversification trends.

Pop-up campsites don’t have to be just for tents. One way to attract more visitors is to encourage people who don’t own a tent or motorhome to stay.

Eco pods, temporary wood cabins, yurts and glamping sites can help bring in people that don’t usually camp. So long as the structure can be removed, it should fall under the PDR policy.

For many, wild camping is also a huge attraction.

Many people would choose more rural, untamed farmland compared to a crowded campsite. Wild swimming spots, rambling hikes and open fields appeal to a certain type of person – and they can be big money earners.

Open fire pits used in the evening are also accepted as they don’t permanently damage the land – just make sure it’s clear to campers where they can set fires and where they can’t.

Farmers have also been finding other income streams from unusual sources. Remembers the goat yoga trend? Queen recorded their famous Bohemian Rhapsody at a farm studio. Glastonbury festival is still held on a farm.

From the chance to feed baby lambs, horse-riding lessons to farm shops and wild swimming in lakes – offering farming activities close to the campsite can draw in more visitors.

Farm Campsite Diversification

Popup campsite fire health & safety

If you are a farmer, there is still time to diversify into pop-up camping, as rules will stay in place until the end of 2021 at the earliest. An extension to the rules is likely as farmers continue to benefit.

Combined with the recent Brexit deal, which has also caused upheaval, the government is open to helping farmers especially in areas such as diversification.

The laws around pop-up campsites are currently still very fluid and vary from location to location. Permits are free in some places and are presently being promoted by local authorities. In other locations, getting a license incur a fee – so it is wise to contact your local council.

Health and safety obligations are absolutely crucial but are very simple – usually it just means filling in a form and a short visit to the proposed site by an official.

Even if it is only temporary, campsite diversification has been a massive boost for farmers who have struggled over the past year. Pop-up campsites are a great way to earn extra money without committing to anything permanent or causing damage to the land.

According to a survey of UK farmers, accessing appropriate farm finance was the biggest challenge when diversifying.

Renting shower blocks and toilets, installing electricity points and preparing the land means start-up capital is often needed to get going.

But with more farmers seeing the benefits and reaping the rewards, specialist agricultural finance lenders are increasingly happy to help with diversification projects. So, if you need access to finance to start diversifying, speak to Evangate FS today.


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