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27 July 2018

King West

Changing the Use of Uncultivated Land

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are now a legal requirement for landowners and occupiers. The aim of the EIA is to protect the environment by ensuring that Local Planning Authorities consider the effect on the environment when deciding whether to grant planning permission to a project.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations are not intended to be a barrier to growth, but rather to help the local government in their decision making and to serve to protect rural land that is uncultivated or semi-natural from damaging agricultural changes. The word damage, in this context, includes the increase of productivity or the physical changing of field boundaries.

Uncultivated land is classified as land that has not been cultivated on for 15 years by physical or chemical means. Furthermore, semi-natural land not only includes land that hasn’t been intensively farmed but also includes priority habitats, heritage and archaeological features or protected landscapes. 

When considering the decision to change the land use of uncultivated land, a farmer must apply to the Environment Agency for an EIA screening test. This is required where a list of activities including, but not limited to, the following are being considered: 

  • There is disruption to the soil surface by ploughing, tine harrowing or rotovating 
  • There is an increased use of fertiliser or soil improvers, including lime
  • The sowing seed will increase grassland productivity 
  • The land is drained 
  • There is a clear existing vegetation or scrub equal or above an area of 2 hectares, either physically or using herbicides 
  • There is an increase in stock density that will result in improved vegetation for grazing

Although it is always safer to ask a professional whether consent is needed there are certain exceptions to when this is not required, such as when replacing nutrients on semi-natural land. However, the change must not result in an increased agricultural output. 

Rules and regulations regarding grassland have been looming for a long time but were put into effect in May 2017. With this regulation arises new complications and with them, more decisions to be taken prior to making changes to farmed land. Such decisions, which may even be about permanent pasture, can be complex with severe repercussions for misinformed actions. 

The EIA may seem like an elaborate and complicated procedure, however, with the advice and help from an experienced professional, the process can be relatively straightforward and without issue. The consequences of not following EIA regulations can result in prosecution, fines of up to £5,000 and the costs associated with land being restored to its previous condition.  

Decisions made on managing land, by landowners or occupiers should be carefully considered and fully researched. King West are able to advise and assist people considering changes to their land management plans. Please contact Harry Epsom in the first instance, via hepsom@kingwest.co.uk or by telephone on 01858 435970.

 

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