‘My family have been here for 300 years, I’m not leaving now’ – Farmer faces eviction in ‘squatters rights’ row

A farmer whose family have tended a parcel of land for more than 300 years says he will defy an eviction order issued by their landlord, Bolton council.

David Yates and his wife Karen have been given a legal notice to leave 11-acre Earls Farm on Stitch Mi Lane in Harwood by the end of April. But the couple, who run an 84-animal cattery from the farm, say they have no intention of moving out.

Instead, they are proceeding with an ‘adverse possession order’ which they believe entitles them to take ownership of the property because they have been squatting on the land for more than 12 years. Adverse possession is also known as ‘squatters’ rights’ and is based on an ancient philosophy requiring owners of land to actually make productive use of it.

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David, 65, took over the tenancy of the farm in 1995 following the death of his father William Yates.

He and Karen, 54, established the cattery as well as an innovative manufacturing hub for making barley straw which kills green algae. The couple have also created a facility for ‘Men in Sheds’ – the men’s mental health charity – and Karen also runs a beauty and nail treatment business there also.

After taking legal advice, David and Karen say they were advised that because they had been occupying the land for more than 12 years without paying any rent, they qualified to take ‘adverse possession’ of the land and made application to Her Majesty’s Land Registry (HMLR).

After being informed of the application, Bolton council wrote to the couple saying it intended to ‘strenuously defend’ the application. In the letter, seen by the Manchester Evening News. The council’s legal advisers state: “Regardless of the progress of the adverse possession application with HMLR, the council requires vacant possession of the entire holding. You are required to vacate the holding on or before April 30, 2022.”

David said that they were promised a new contract when the nearby St Catherine’s Academy school was completed about 15 years ago. “But we haven’t paid a penny in rent since 2007, because we never heard from Bolton council until 2016,” he said.

“As soon as we put our adverse possession application in they suddenly got interested, but we think we have a very sound legal case to claim the land because we have been putting it to effective use.”

And he added: “My family have been here for 300 years, I’m not leaving now.”

A spokesperson for Bolton council said: “We are unable to comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.”

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