Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Alpaca farmers hoping to offer ‘glamping’ holidays

Alpaca farmers hoping to offer ‘glamping’ holidays

THE owners of an alpaca farm hope to offer “glamping” holiday lets having been given permission for a visitor centre.

Claire Morphy and her cousin Mary-Jo Smith are seeking consent for five timber-framed “winter yurts” in a 5.4-hectare field at Bozedown Alpacas, off Hardwick Road, Whitchurch.

The roundhouses are similar to the circular tents used by nomadic Asian tribes and would be heavily insulated to retain heat.

The women, who currently farm about 740 alpacas, applied to South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, just days after it gave them permission for a two-storey alpaca experience and education centre near the main farmhouse.

The yurts would be in the northern part of the field and face south overlooking a slope leading to the River Thames.

They would be environmentally friendly with untreated wooden exteriors and slate roofs to blend in with their surroundings and be made from only British materials.

They would be screened by a hedge and would not have any outside lighting. Inside each one would be a double bedroom with en-suite shower and toilet and a fully equipped kitchen.

They could be hired all-year round and the lettings would provide steady extra income to offset the quiet times in the sale of the alpacas and their wool, which is unpredictable.

The owners say there is a growing market for “glamping” holidays because people enjoy being closer to nature while having luxury amenities. They also say there are no similar businesses in the area.

Mrs Morphy said: “They should provide incredible views of the Thames Valley on the higher ground but they’ll have very little visual impact for walkers, cyclists and horse riders on the road because of the thick hedgerows.

“We’d love to have them in place over the summer as that’s a great time to get people out and enjoying them but it would depend on our contractors’ schedules.

“Many of the people who stay will want to walk the alpacas as it’s a great way to enjoy the countryside and they’re gentle animals that walk at a very sedate pace.”

The application says: “The winter yurts have been chosen because they accord with our objectives to maintain the environment using locally sourced products, constructed locally, and would be heavily insulated and aesthetically pleasing.

“The agricultural field at Bozedown Farm is an ideal location on which to site low-impact winter yurt-style roundhouses to sit along the hillside. A great deal of thought has gone into the placement and design to ensure that they would not visually detract from the character or appearance of the open countryside and that its visual impact is minimal.

“By constructing these winter yurts, there is an opportunity to significantly increase revenue and profitability from the farmland. This will be a year-round activity and will provide a sustained and steady income for the farm.

“The proposed development would extend and enhance the existing ethos of the alpaca farm at this location by supporting our care of the environment and our place within the community of Whitchurch, most of all by allowing us to maintain the farm for generations to come. We believe that the proposal forms a sustainable, small-scale development of farm diversification with a focus on accommodation quality and a unique, memorable experience.”

Meanwhile, the new visitor centre should add to the farm’s attraction.

This will replace part of a steel barn and will also be used to store alpaca wool and accommodate seasonal farm workers. The building will have a reception area, a shop and kitchen as well as teaching rooms that will be used for training other people working in the industry. It will be fully accessible by disabled people.

Visitors will be able to attend workshops about alpacas and how they are farmed as well as walk the animals around the 36-hectare estate. A special path will be laid to allow wheelchair users to take part.

Another part of the barn will have holding pens for the alpacas to enable visitors to see them up close.

In their application, the owners said: “The accommodation is to meet the need for seasonal labour requirements, for example, shearing staff and additional staff needed during the summer breeding season.

“Housing is extremely expensive in the local area and it can be difficult to recruit staff when accommodation is not available on site.”

Whitchurch Parish Council supported this application while the district council’s planning officers said it was appropriate diversification of the farm and would benefit the area economically.

Oxfordshire County Council’s highways officers were concerned about visitors parking on the mainroad but the owners said there was a car park and overspill space.

The farm was launched on a small piece of land in Whitchurch Hill in 1989 by Mrs Morphy’s mother, Joy Whitehead. Mrs Smith and her husband Iain later took over and moved it to Whitchurch in 1998. The couple breed and exhibit alpacas professionally and have won numerous awards.

Mrs Morphy, a vet who specialises in alpacas and related species, also runs the Camelid Veterinary Services clinic in Goring Heath.

The district council will decide the application by April 19.

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