From offering holiday accommodation to selling Christmas trees, astute farmers are finding ways to create new income streams.

Income generated by diversification is now a vital part of many farming businesses but it can involve unfamiliar legal, planning, staffing plus health and safety issues. Taking time at the outset to identify and address those issues can avoid costly disputes further down the line says Head of Dispute Resolution at Pearsons & Ward Johanne Spittle.

Before you embark on a new diversification project it is important to check whether there are any restrictions on how you use your land and that you carefully consider the potential impact that a new venture may have on your neighbours.

Where your land has previously formed part of a larger estate which was divided up, it is possible that the original estate owner will have imposed restrictions on land sold off to protect and benefit the land retained; these are called restrictive covenants. Potentially problematic covenants might restrict use for any purpose other than as agricultural land: this may affect certain developments such as holiday cottages; retail or commercial units; there may be restrictions preventing you from erecting buildings or carrying out development without consent or which stop you from doing anything on the property that may be a nuisance or annoyance to the owners or occupiers of the retained land: this might be a problem if the new venture causes a significant increase in traffic which affects the land with the benefit of the covenant.

Traffic is an important consideration if you are intending to sell direct to the public regardless of whether your land has restrictions affecting use. If you are intending to create a new access to the highway or have concerns about traffic safety then further advice will be needed. If you access your land along a private road or track which you intend to use for the diversification project you will need to establish ownership of the road or rights granted over it. You do not want to find yourself in a dispute with a neighbouring landowner who complains about damage to the roadway and the additional traffic to and from your Christmas tree shop.

Similarly, if you hold the land under a tenancy you should double check the position to ensure that there are no restrictions preventing particular types of agricultural use or if your venture is likely to require landlord consent.

Planning permission is required for any development carried out on land and so some diversification projects will have planning implications where advice should be taken. However the definition of "agriculture" in the context of planning is fairly wide; provided your Christmas Tree venture extends only to the planting of trees then any change of use of your land would not be caught. If however you are contemplating selling direct to the public and a retail outlet then you may need permission and should take specialist advice.

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association estimates around seven million trees are bought in the UK each year. If you are tempted to explore whether Christmas trees could be one way to diversify your land, as with any new venture, now is the opportunity to speak to other Christmas tree growers and industry experts.

For more information on farm diversification or any other litigation issue, contact Johanne Spittle on 01653 692247 or email