Tim Tyne talks about the uses of portable and temporary buildings on smallholdings

It’s commonly thought that portable structures, such as mobile field shelters, do not need planning permission. The long-held belief is that, provided that you build your structure on ‘skids’, you circumvent the rules. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t quite as simple as that! Largely, it’s going to depend on what you want to use it for. Horses are a particular case in point. Grazing horses counts as agricultural use of land but, as soon as you provide a field shelter or stable, you’re no longer simply grazing horses – you’re keeping them! Unless they’re heavy horses used for farm work, this requires planning permission for change of use of the land from agriculture to ‘horseyculture’. Once this permission has been obtained, then the erection of mobile shelters will not need planning permission (but fixed ones will). However, once you’ve officially changed the use of your land, you may no longer qualify for permitted agricultural development rights in respect of any other building projects you wish to carry out. Therefore, if you’re intending to keep recreational horses on your holding in conjunction with other more ‘agricultural’ activities, it may be best to try to claim an exemption for a mobile field shelter or stables on the grounds that it’s incidental to your enjoyment of the dwelling house. (But do check up on this before committing yourself.). Smaller mobile livestock accommodation, such as pig and poultry arks, are not classified as buildings, so the siting of such items constitutes land use, rather than development. Provided that such use broadly falls within the definition of agriculture, or the animals are purely for the personal enjoyment of the occupants of the house, they should be acceptable in most situations, although local restrictions may apply in certain areas.Apart from any perceived planning advantages, the principal benefits of mobile structures are ease of construction (no complicated groundworks or foundations) and, of course, portability. The fact that the structure can regularly be moved to a fresh piece of ground is much better from the point of view of animal health and welfare, with less opportunity for the accumulation of harmful pathogens, and less damage to soil and pasture too. Of course, small items such as pig and poultry arks can easily be moved by hand, but larger buildings, like field shelters or stables built on skids, are going to need to be towed to their new location using a tractor. Therefore, unless you’ve got the means to do this, there’s very little to be gained by building such a structure, unless it’s purely with intention of avoiding the need for planning permission on equestrian holdings. On an agricultural smallholding you might just as well erect a more substantial fixed building.

Pig arksThe traditional corrugated iron semi-circular pig ark is an extremely simple structure, that doesn’t have any of the ‘mod cons’ seen in the plastic versions! Following the recent rise in the popularity of small-scale pig keeping, there are lots of companies selling traditional pig arks, but at more than £300 for a basic 8 ft x 4 ft model, they’re not cheap. However, the curved galvanised sheets only cost about £35 each, so you can build your own easily enough. There’s not a huge difference in price between the traditional arks and the plastic ones, although, of course, you can’t make any savings by building the plastic ones yourself! They may not look very pretty, but the plastic arks have the advantage of being rot and rust proof, and many are double walled for insulation, with provision for adjustable ventilation. They can also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between occupants. Conversely, the traditional metal arks are freezing cold in winter, like ovens in the summer, and will eventually fall apart (particularly if you have a boar pig as large and destructive as ours!).

Calf hutchesCalf rearing is an ideal enterprise for the more serious smallholder, but it’s now recognised that traditional farm buildings are not particularly well suited, due to poor ventilation and the difficulty of cleansing and disinfecting stone, brick or timber between batches. Small scale producers are unlikely to be able to justify the cost of a permanent purpose-built shed, so calf hutches provide an excellent solution. Similar in appearance to the plastic pig arks (but usually white in colour, to avoid overheating), each hutch is appropriately sized to hold one calf. Adjustable ventilation ensures good airflow, and integral bucket holders, accessible from the outside, make for easy routine management. Larger hutches are available for group rearing. When the calves outgrow their accommodation the hutches can be thoroughly cleaned, and moved to a fresh piece of ground, ensuring that there’s no risk of disease carry over from one batch to the next. This method of calf rearing has been proven to give lower mortality rates, due to reduced incidence of pneumonia and scours.

Poultry housesSmall portable poultry houses (the sort with an attached run) provide the perfect means for smallholders to rotate cropping and land use in the vegetable garden. A lightweight ark suitable for up to half-a-dozen birds can easily be lifted and moved by two people, giving the hens a fresh piece of ground every couple of days or so. The house and run can be moved in stages across a fallow plot, where the hens will do a great job of breaking up the dense mat of vegetation, fertilising as they go. It can also be moved over the residue of harvested crops, allowing the birds to clean up the leftovers and eat any pests. The construction of a small poultry ark is a simple matter, and, if reclaimed materials are used, will cost next to nothing (if anything!). Larger poultry houses, on wheels or skids, are not moved so often (maybe only once or twice a year), but provide a central point from which a series of enclosures can be accessed in rotation. Electric poultry netting is ideal for creating temporary runs. Regardless of the type of accommodation you provide for your hens, it’s advised nowadays that you have a secure covered area in which they can be contained in the event of a bird flu outbreak.


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