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15 September 2017
Environmental Impact Assessments
Are you thinking of having your tired pony paddock, or other grazing field, rejuvenated this coming autumn, perhaps by ploughing it up and re-sowing it? If you are, take care.
If it has been grass for more than 15 years and hasn’t been fertilized or sprayed, as many paddocks won’t have been, you might need a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), in addition to your request for permission from Natural England to plough. If not, you will risk being fined up to £5,000. EIAs are normally thought to only be required for huge development and road schemes, but can now even apply to projects to plough up old grassland, or install a farm road in a sensitive location.
Following the new rules, you will now require permission for the disruption of soil surface by ploughing, tine harrowing or rotovating; an increase in the use of fertiliser or soil improvers, including lime; the sowing of any seed that will increase grassland productivity; the draining of land; or an increase in stock density that will result in increased vegetation from grazing. Permission will also be required to clear existing vegetation or scrub equal to or above two hectares, either physically or using herbicides.
This two-hectare (2ha) threshold represents a maximum within any one landholding. This means that work cannot be undertaken on separate projects under 2ha on the same landholding if the total area of these projects would then exceed 2ha. Natural England must also consider proposals to alter land under 2ha, should that land be of regional significance. This would be the case for land that is semi-natural; has heritage features, such as above or below- ground archaeological sites; or has special landscape features, such as an historic parkland.
Rules are also in place to regulate the altering of field boundaries. A screening decision will need to be made if you are intending to add or remove boundaries that are over 4km long, or 2km long in instances where the area is protected, including national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, or any site with a scheduled monument.
You will also require permission should you intend to add, remove or redistribute earth, or other materials, if the area is over 10,000 cubic metres or 10ha. In the instance of a protected area, this threshold falls to 5,000 cubic metres, or 5ha.
Once you have submitted your EIA screening application, Natural England will take up to 90 days, depending on the complexity of the proposal, to decide whether you may proceed with the project or need to apply for consent to carry out the work. Your screening decision, once it has been made, will remain valid for three years. Should Natural England’s screening decision state that your project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, you will need to file for a further “consent decision” in order to carry out the project. For this, you will be required to construct an environmental assessment report. Once consent is granted, work on the project must be commenced within one year of the decision and completed within three years and, once this deadline has passed, a consent decision must be applied for once again in order for work to continue.