TALKS are taking place over the future of "nationally-important" buildings linked to the industry that made a Hampshire town wealthy.

Civic chiefs have contacted the owner of two barns described as the last surviving remnants of the salt production trade that drove the development of Lymington and the surrounding area.

It follows "grave concerns" about the state of the Grade II-listed buildings at Lower Woodside.

Earlier this year the Lymington Society urged the New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) to take urgent action to safeguard the structures.

Sally Knott, the NPA's senior building design and conservation officer, said: "We met the owner on site with his builder, who is a historic buildings specialist, and were able to look at the barns and inspect their condition internally and externally.

"We discussed our concerns and those of the community surrounding their future, the repairs needed and their long-term use.

"These are the last two barns remaining from Lymington’s historic salt industry and we recognise their importance to the local area.

"We want to do what we can to rescue and restore them with a future viable use, working with the owner to protect them for the town and the community."

The news has been welcomed by the Lymington Society.

Donald Mackenzie, the group's deputy chairman, said: "The Society is pleased the conservation officer at the NPA has now met with the owner of the barns and that discussions are now taking place about their future.

"The Society hopes these discussions will allow some viable use to come forward for these nationally-important buildings in the future and that the necessary repairs are also agreed as soon as possible.

"The Society will continue to liaise with the conservation officer to monitor progress and will be asking the NPA to seriously consider enforcement if urgent repairs are not undertaken soon."

Lymington's salt marshes supplied an important industry that began in the medieval period and continued until the early 19th century.

Salt extracted from seawater was a highly-valued commodity used in cooking. It also played a vital role in the preservation of meat, fish and vegetables.

Much of Lymington's 17th and 18th century prosperity was based on revenue generated by the salt marshes in the Pennington and Keyhaven areas.

Daniel Defoe, best known as the author of Robinson Crusoe, visited the New Forest and declared that "all of Southern England" obtained its salt from Lymington.

But the industry was hit by rising taxes, the cost of buying and transporting the coal used in the boiling process, and competition from inland salt producers based in Cheshire.

By 1836 only 14 "salterns" were still in operation. The last closed in the mid-1860s.