Care farming and green care survey shows sector growth

News item first posted on: 21/02/22

Results from the Social Farms & Gardens annual care farming and green care survey show that the sector has grown 34% since the 2019/20 survey. 

Green care is structured therapy or treatment programmes that take place in natural surroundings. This includes care farming, Social and Therapeutic Horticulture (STH) and animal assisted interventions. Care farming is the therapeutic use of farming practices. People benefit from the combination of the natural environment, meaningful activity and social connection.

The Growing Care Farming project team collected the latest sector data after most pandemic restrictions were lifted in the UK during 2021. 

Key findings include: 

  • 402 care farms and green care providers currently operating in the UK, a further 80 in the Republic of Ireland and an estimated 220 in development 

  • Care farms are delivering an estimated 675,269 places per year in England alone

  • Care farms could potentially provide over 1 million places per year for people via health, social care and education referrals

  • Care farming contributes around £70m each year to the economy in England

Care Farming Development Manager, Dr Rachel Bragg OBE, said:

“Care farming and green care practitioners are successfully supporting more people than ever before. Our survey shows that with the appropriate funding and recognition, care farms and green care sites play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of local communities. In the wake of Covid-19, the sector continues to provide adults and young people with life-changing health, care and educational services.”

The most common user groups for adults are people with a learning disability, people with mental ill-health, those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or learning difficulties. For young people, those with a learning difficulty or ASD are among the most common user groups. 

Most people are referred to care farms through families and carers, Local Authority social services, personal social care budgets and education services. Social care and education referrals are more likely to come with funding than health referrals. Funding from other referral sources like Children’s Mental Health Teams has increased since 2019/20.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector has been challenging with practitioners losing around six months of delivery due to restrictions. Some care farms and green care sites saw an increase in enquiries and referrals. There were also surges and backlogs reported as restrictions lifted. Many care farms have adapted their services and are continuing with different ways of working.

Aside from Covid-19, funding and operational costs remain the biggest challenge for current practitioners. Those looking to start a new care farming or green care site told us that their biggest challenges were start-up funding, accessing referrals, referral funding and legal issues like planning permission. 

Care farmers and green care providers identified that the following support was important for them or the sector: 

  • Stable funding streams
  • Funding to cover core costs
  • Networking and collaboration between care farmers
  • Training opportunities, support and resources
  • Raising the profile of the sector at a national level 
  • Help to match land available to where it is needed 

Read the overview or the full report.

Social Farms & Gardens, in partnership with Thrive, are delivering the Growing Care Farming (GCF), project as part of the Government’s Children & Nature programme. Our vision is to create more opportunities for children and adults with a defined need to benefit from the health, care and educational services provided on care farms and green care sites.

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