Illustration of garden design with coloured pencils scattered around


What you can and can't do in your garden

If you are renovating the house or garden, you need to ensure you don’t fall foul of some lesser-known planning laws.

All over the country, homeowners are considering the merits of renovating their home or garden.

In an environment of rising house prices and housing shortages, making improvements to your current home may seem an attractive alternative way to make the most of your space. Applications for home improvements rose by 12% on average across the UK in 2014, increasing in every region.

However, for rural dwellers, renovating the home or garden can be more complex than you may think, no matter how simple your plans are.

Being ignorant of the rules is the same as disregarding them. And at the end of your hard work, you could find yourself out of pocket and back where you started if you don’t do your research first.


In the eyes of the law, sheds, garages and greenhouses are considered outbuildings, as are a host of other structures, such as saunas, swimming pools or kennels. These usually fall under permitted development (no planning permission needed), subject to certain limits and conditions on the height and position of the build. For more details, see

However, if you live in a listed building, you will trigger a planning permission requirement for any outbuilding development. Also, building a conservatory that leads out into the garden, or a new fence or gate, requires listed building consent.

According to Historic England, ‘the older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed’. The vast majority of listed buildings are in the Grade II category and if you live in one, it means having to navigate heightened planning controls – not just for the building, but the surrounding gardens too.

It may help to seek ‘pre-application advice’ – in other words, to discuss your proposal with your local authority before you send in your application.

Alternatively, you can apply for listed building consent retrospectively. However, your application could easily fail, leaving you as the owner of a property that has had unauthorised work done – making it tougher to sell on. You can find out if your building is listed by simply searching the national heritage database.

Conservation areas

Even if your building isn’t listed, it could be part of a conservation area.

This can cover all kinds of settings, from houses set in historic parks, to stretches of canal. This can bring its own set of restrictions; to cut down a tree in your garden in a conservation area, for example, you would have to apply to your local planning authority six weeks in advance. 


Discovering wildlife on your land can pose its own set of development challenges.

Badgers and their setts, for example, are protected under the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act – injuring or disturbing them can come with a prison sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to £5,000. However, you may be able to get a licence to interfere with a sett if it is causing serious damage to your land.

There are numerous laws that protect wildlife, such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, giving special protection to bats that may well be roosting in your shed or barn. So if you wanted to carry out some timber treatment or build an extension, you would have to notify Natural England first.


If you live on a farm, you will require planning permission for certain developments. This includes building a house on your land, or changing how you use your current buildings, for example from agricultural use to a home office or study.

What can I do?

The first thing you can do is plenty of research, and try not to take anything for granted when researching the relevant planning rules that apply to your property.

It could pay dividends to get in touch with your local authority before you pursue any plans, helping you avoid wasting your time, and crucially, a lot of money.