It is tempting to assume that rural property is, by its nature, free from environmental blight. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Common examples of trouble are old tips that until recently were entirely unregulated and which can contain a heady cocktail of chemicals; they can and do cause damaging pollution when located in the wrong place. I have recently been involved with a farm that had polluted a neighbour’s drinking water abstraction well, which proved both highly expensive and disruptive. A different farm was not causing pollution, but had a tip that was full of jagged metal and situated next to a footpath, thereby being an accident waiting to happen.

A reasonable number of farms have larger, filled quarries or official landfills within their boundaries. Even when these do not contain contaminated wastes, they frequently contain poor quality soil and settle to form flood-prone hollows, which can reduce yields or make the area entirely unfit for arable cultivation. This form of non-polluting landfill reduced the value of one farm by almost £500,000.

Fewer farms have had rural industries on them, such as tanneries, but this is still not as rare as many think. Larger estates sometimes had their own gasworks, which can remain extremely hazardous for many decades after demolition. Sheep dips, fuel storage and agrochemical stores all have the potential to cause serious pollution, which is especially dangerous if there are any underground water abstraction wells or protected habitats nearby.

Invasive weeds create problems particularly relevant to farms and were often imported within soil used for land raising or improvement projects (as well as tipping). Japanese Knotweed is extremely virulent and is it a civil offence to allow it to spread off your land. Standard spraying with weed killer rarely works, so it is wise to employ a specialist contractor to destroy it. Giant hogweed can cause chemical burns, which is a liability issue if close to footpaths; Himalayan Balsam can reek havoc to watercourses, which can be expensive if one has riparian duties.

Development on agricultural land is itself becoming problematic, even when there are none of the above hazards. Many local authorities are becoming increasingly worried about the residues of agrochemicals left in the ground by standard cultivation. Greenfield developments are more commonly being subject to full contamination surveys and some even require extensive remediation, such as covering all garden areas with imported topsoil.

Standard searches for farms have been cost prohibitive, but this is no longer the case. The risks for most farms may not be great, but an investment of a few hundred pounds during the purchase will save the unlucky few from potentially massive loss. Equally, early involvement of an environmental consultant during development plans could save nasty surprises later, as well as streamline the whole process and significantly reduce associated costs.

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