A farming couple who opened up part of their farm to school visits have been obliged to apply for retrospective planning permission.
Nigel and Lorraine Trowell farm 27 acres at Willow Farm in Yalding where they grow cherries, pears and plums, produce hay for sale, and keep chickens, sheep and goats.
For the past year, they have allowed individual children or small school groups to visit the farm and help with the farming activities.
Their young visitors all struggle to deal with a normal school curriculum, but find the farm visits peaceful and rewarding.
However, Maidstone council says this represents a change of use of the land away from agriculture and has asked the couple to submit a retrospective planning application.
The care farm concept arose out of Mrs Trowell's previous experience working with children with learning difficulties, autism and downs syndrome.
The couple said: "What we offer is actually enrichment for the children with special needs - it is not ‘petting farm.’"
They are seeking permission to use a fenced area of just 330 sq metres for a care farm to include an animal shelter, a shed to be used as a classroom or restroom, and a polytunnel.
Support has come from the head of the West Heath Special School in Sevenoaks. The principal, Photini Bohacek, said: "Since our students have been attending Willow Farm, we have seen the positive impact on their anxieties and metal wellbeing.
"Their anxiety levels have lessened and there has been a great improvement in their re-engagement in their lessons and within the wider school community."
The Maidstone and Malling Alternative Provision agreed.
Assistant head Pauline Blayney said: "We've been so pleased with the outcomes of Willow Farm in meeting the needs of our students who attend an Alternative Provision as part of their education."
'Most farms are in a rural location'
"Due to Covid , there has been an increase in the need for young people to have this type of experience due to their mental health, and Willow Farm has been a breath of fresh air.
"The learning and personal development given to the students at this venue is second to none."
Despite this, Yalding Parish Council has expressed some concerns about the application, particularly if the number of visits were to increase.
It said: "Growing the business could increase the size and frequency of the vehicles visiting the site, this would not be appropriate as it is in a rural location off a single track lane, with very limited passing opportunities."
In response, the Trowells said: "We are disappointed that the parish council is not supportive."
"We would have thought they would see a provision which helps children with disabilities and mental health issues as an asset to Yalding village."
They explained that they currently had two groups of six children arriving by mini-bus each week and three children who came individually,
They were not on site together, so in fact there was only ever one extra vehicle visiting as a result of the care farm use, and that vehicles used the standard farm entrance of Lughouse Lane.
As far the parish's comment that it was a rural location, the applicants said: "This is a farm and most farms are in a rural location on country lanes which are quite often single track lanes.
"A care farm by it’s very nature has to be based within a farm setting."
The application can be viewed on the Maidstone council website here.
The application number is 22/505714.