What do you think about polytunnels?

The Soil Association's overall goal is to increase UK supply of organic food by encouraging people to eat a more seasonal diet.

Well-managed and sensitively sited polytunnels have a positive role to play in growing soft fruit, vegetables and salad crops in the UK. By extending the growing season they enable farmers to supply UK markets with UK produce for longer than if the crops were only grown outdoors. Because of the microclimate that the covered area creates, fungal diseases are less of a problem, and biological controls are more effective. Farmers benefit from being able to grow a wider range of crops, helping their business, and contributing to rural employment, local food supply, and the local economy.

However, the Soil Association believes that the large-scale use of polytunnels and associated infrastructure can represent an unacceptable imposition on rural areas and rural communities. We welcome the High Court Judgement that requires large-scale polytunnels to have planning permission. We believe that all significant developments of polytunnels should be subject to planning controls. Whether a development is ‘significant’ will vary across the country, and should be decided by the local authority. All farmers, and in particular organic farmers, should act as good neighbours, try to respect the wishes of their local community and maintain the quality of the local landscape.

Large areas of polytunnel can be a major blight on the beauty of the countryside and mean the land no longer supports wildlife or public recreation. Additionally, where the farms are non-organic, polytunnels involve intensive methods of production with the use of chemical pesticides and risk the build-up of pollution.

Polytunnels can be good for a landscape and community if they are:

  • integrated into local communities, increasing positive development of employment opportunities, the supply of local food and the local economy
  • part of a biodiverse farm system including wildlife habitats and a range of crops
  • planned to include good soil and rainwater management systems.
  • only used when necessary, to extend the growing season for certain crops
  • positioned sensitively within the landscape, not dominating views of the area
  • given planning consent (when applicable) only where local infrastructure can cope with the increase in traffic and people

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