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Farmers or rural landowners looking for new opportunities for diversification could take a lead from peers and look to re-purpose any paddock amenity to accommodate the nation’s growing penchant for pooches.

That’s the view of Shouler & Son who, as a property firm with a client base in the rural East Midlands, are aware of a number of paddock owners who are reaping the commercial rewards of working with, or even as, operators in the dog care sector in one form or another.

According to PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals), the vet charity for pets in need, there are 9.6 million pet dogs in the UK and 26 per cent of UK adults own a dog (source: PDSA Paw Report, May 2021).

Dog ownership increased during the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic (from March 2020). Some statistics point to over 3 million new dogs acquired by households across the country since that time.

Anecdotally, it is reported that many acquiring lockdown pups were completely new to dog ownership; many live in urban areas and many new - and even established dog owners, on returning to more normal working patterns post-lockdown, found themselves struggling to cope with boisterous dogs who were used to lots of attention at home.

Dog care in all its forms is a multi-million pound industry and professional soundings in the sector indicate it’s business sector with a growing demand for outdoor space – even prior to March 2020.

And that, according to Shouler & Son, is what makes it an attractive proposition to farmers and rural landowners with paddock amenity.

The scale to which paddock owners want to involve themselves directly, or indirectly, in the business of dogs is a matter for careful consideration and commercial review when it comes to outlay, operational costs and insurance liabilities.

One option is the straightforward provision of a paddock site for a secure playfield as a direct operator.

Inputs would involve secure fencing and gated access and the operation of an e-commerce website set-up for bookings and payments. Additional inputs could be mains connections for lighting, water and drainage, especially for a year-round operation not governed by daylight hours limitations.

Alternatively, this ‘field-only’ set-up could be leased to an operator already in the business of dog play, care or training.

Paddock owners could also consider scaling-up to diversify to lease to operators of full time dog day care facilities - with or without complementary grooming salons or a behaviour/agility on-site training offer.

Of course, as Shouler & Son points out, such a grander scale of operations would necessitate provision of associated outbuildings, mains water supply and drainage connections, with matters of local authority licensing and environmental regulations and liabilities being negotiated with the operator.

But even the entry level secure playfield set-up would require official change of use permission.

Whatever the size or nature of the operation under consideration, location is the most important driver for a paddock to be a viable prospect, advises Shouler & Son’s commercial property professionals.

Ideally, a site with direct access from the road, customer parking provision and close enough to a conurbation or major residential settlement - but not close enough to pose a potential noise or traffic nuisance to neighbouring occupiers.

Harry Baines, head of commercial, Shouler & Son, concludes, “Conventionally, farmers and landowners have either hired out their paddocks for equine use or retained for family amenity use or small holder ‘hobby’ uses such as keeping ducks or chickens.

“We have, presently, approaches from a number of dog-centred business interests who are on the search for suitable sites in the East Midlands.

“We are urging owners of paddock sites to consider the changing nature of modern dog ownership and the full range of commercially bona fide diversification opportunities centred on canine use.”

For more information on paddock site suitability for dog-related business uses, Harry Baines at Shouler & Son, email, tel 01664 560181.