ANDREA Meanwell is busy preparing the family’s working upland farm overlooking the magnificent Howgill Fells for the influx of campers expected this summer.

Low Borrowbridge Farm is described as a simple and scenic site on a working upland farm in Cumbria, in a handy spot that’s easily accessed from the M6 and about five minutes’ drive from Tebay.

It’s not just the motorway access that makes this location a particularly nifty one for a break – it’s also in a strategic place on the edge of both the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales national parks.

Andrea is one of many farmers taking advantage of the boom in staycations by opening a campsite to boost revenues and put their businesses on firmer footings before the removal of EU agricultural subsidies, as well as an expected downturn.

A Farming Officer with the Lake District National Park Authority, Andrea says last year’s decision to run a ‘pop-up’ campsite was the difference between the family farm being profitable and not. “I also was able to buy a farm gator with a roof, instead of a quad,” says Andrea.

The number working farms looking to cash in on the boom in staycations has sky-rocketed, according to figures from Pitchup.com.

And according to its founder, Dan Yates, they had one farm in Cumbria take more than £7,000 in bookings in a single day. “We have seen others take as much as £13,000 across a weekend and £50,000 over a week," said Mr Yates.

Of the 2,000 campsites listed on Pitchup.com – Europe’s largest outdoor accommodation provider – more than 700 are working farms and 400 of those operate temporary sites, set up to take advantage of the peak holiday season. Many such sites have joined the business in the first quarter of 2021, eager to secure a post-COVID financial recovery.

The hike comes after a change in planning policy increased the length of time farms and other land-based businesses can legally operate a campsite without planning permission from 28 days to 56 days.

Mr Yates said farmers were turning to temporary campsites in droves because they are the quickest and easiest form of diversification to get off the ground. He said: “Establishing a campsite is very easy. At their most basic, all you need is a patch of land and running water, which most farms have already, and some toilets, which are easy to hire. Crucially, you don’t need planning permission to operate one for up to 56 days per year.

“With staycations booming and that trend set to stay, people are crying out for beautiful areas of the countryside where they can enjoy a relaxing break away from the pressures of work and lockdown. Farmers are perfectly placed to provide that. The farm-based campsites we work with can decide how many guests they want to host and with demand as it is, we are extremely confident we can fill those pitches.”

Mr Yates added that as well as being quick, convenient, and unobtrusive on day-to-day farming operations, pop-up and permanent campsites can be very lucrative.

“Although most campsite don’t generate quite the level of income we quoted, even small pop-up sites – which are the easiest by far to accommodate – return on average £13,000 in extra revenue per year, and many take tens of thousands of pounds more than this.

“We expect to see many more farmers try this kind of diversification as we come out of lockdown and the summer gets closer.”

This year the LDNP ran a series of webinars for Cumbrian farmers, which were a sell-out, and Andrea was able to share her experience and give practical hints and tips to others on how they can offer accommodation for visitors this summer.

Andrea said: “Last year we saw an unprecedented number of visitors to the Lake District National Park, many of whom were looking for campsites. If we have more campsite spaces available we will hopefully reduce ‘fly camping’ and litter throughout the park.

“We are anticipating similar numbers of visitors this year and this session will give farmers and landowners a chance to gauge if this could be an opportunity for them.”

But not all Lake District residents are happy about the pop-up campsite culture. One at Chapel Stile in the Langdale valley, which is due to open on July 1, has drawn criticism from the community, with villagers described as ‘livid’ about the plan by a local councillor.

Under current government rules, only campsites where indoor facilities such as toilets are not shared can open from mid-April, with the rest having to wait until May, although some have already opened their farmgates.

Andrea, stressed that the LDNPA had provided advice that included pop-up sites being set up in quieter areas. She said it was hoped ‘responsible temporary campsites’ would help meet visitor demand and cut down on the anti-social behaviour seen last year. We are fielding a lot of complaints from villagers about campsites close to their homes, and we are advising ideally campsites should be sited away from local communities.”

Jim Walker, chairman of Cumbria Tourism said that relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions has certainly helped the industry, but it was going a little slower than many expected. “But the B&Bs and Hotels are not open yet. Psychologically people are less confident. We are looking at a slow and gentle recovery.”

He added: “Pop-up sites will help farmers with another diversification outlet. There is not the same investment cost as diversifying into a campsite with facilities for caravans and motorhomes. From a tourism perspective we need to recoup £2bn was lost in tourism in Cumbria in 2020, but we are seeing encouraging signs.”

David Hall, National Farmers Union North West Regional Director, said they were holding an online event next week in conjunction with Pitchup, which had so far attracted 60 farmers interested in setting up campsites.

“There is a huge interest in farmers doing this and it means they can earn a little bit of money. We are supporting them with our webinar. There is little investment, they can hire toilets and shower blocks,” said David.

“This provides a potential solution to fly-camping and litter problems we have seen in the Lakes. It is a festival culture where campers leave their tents and equipment behind. This is not the image we want for the Lake District.

“We are hoping that some farms will be able to set up car parks to help relieve some of the congestion around the honeypot places. Visitors will be more dispersed,” he added.