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Guidance: EIA (Agriculture) regulations: apply to make changes to rural land

Natural England

September 30
08:30 2021

The EIA regulations protect rural land in England thats uncultivated or semi-natural from changes in agricultural activities that might cause damage by:

  • increasing productivity
  • physically changing field boundaries

Uncultivated land is land that has not been cultivated in the last 15 years by:

  • physical means, such as ploughing or an activity that breaks the soil surface
  • chemical means, such as adding fertiliser or soil improvers

Semi-natural land includes priority habitats, heritage or archaeological features, or protected landscapes. Its usually land that has not been intensively farmed, such as unimproved grassland or lowland heath.

You must use this guidance to follow EIA regulations if you want to change rural land use. Failure to follow EIA regulations means you could:

  • be prosecuted
  • be fined up to 5,000
  • have to restore land to its previous condition

EIA regulations are part of cross compliance, the rules you must follow if you have land in:

  • the Basic Payment Scheme
  • Countryside Stewardship
  • Environmental Stewardship

Failure to follow EIA regulations could affect your payments.

When to get permission to change rural land

Natural England must decide if your proposal to change the use of rural land is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. You must apply for this decision, known as an EIA screening decision before you change rural land. There are several ways to change the use of rural land.

Increasing productivity of land for agriculture

You need a screening decision if you propose to affect uncultivated or semi-natural land by:

  • disrupting the soil surface by ploughing, tine harrowing or rotovating
  • increasing the use of fertiliser or soil improvers including lime
  • sowing seed that will increase grassland productivity
  • draining land
  • clearing existing vegetation or scrub equal to or above an area of 2 hectares, either physically or using herbicides
  • increasing stock density that will result in improved vegetation from grazing

Land under 2 hectares

You cannot work on separate projects under the 2ha threshold which are on the same landholding if they exceed 2ha overall.

Natural England also needs to consider proposals to change land under the 2ha threshold thats of regional significance if it:

  • is semi-natural
  • has heritage features, such as above or below-ground archaeological sites
  • has special landscape features, such as historic parkland

Restoring semi-natural grassland or semi-natural heathland

You need a screening decision if sowing seed for the restoration of land disrupts the soil surface and increases agricultural productivity.

Altering field boundaries

You need a screening decision if you intend to:

  • add or remove field boundaries that are over 4km long
  • add or remove field boundaries that are over 2km long on land in protected areas, such as a national park, area of outstanding natural beauty or site of a scheduled monument
  • add new fencing on common land that meets the same criteria above (these were previously exempt from the regulations)

Moving or redistributing earth

You need a screening decision to add, remove or redistribute earth or other material if its:

  • 10,000 cubic metres or more
  • an area of 100 hectares or more

For land in a protected area, such as a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty, you need permission to add, remove or redistribute earth or other material if its:

  • 5,000 cubic metres or more
  • an area of 50 hectares or more

You do not need permission to:

  • replace nutrients on semi-natural land as long as it does not result in increased agricultural output - for example applying low levels of lime or farmyard manure to a hay meadow as part of its traditional management
  • introduce mixed wildflower seed
  • clear invasive non-native vegetation

Apply for a screening decision

You must apply for a screening decision before changing rural land that:

  • is equal to or over the 2ha threshold
  • meets the criteria under the 2ha threshold

You must provide an environmental screening report (ESR) with your application.

Your ESR needs to include:

  • a full description of the project and its effect on the environment
  • map and plans for the project and the area likely to be affected
  • descriptions of the environmental sensitivity of the project
  • landscape, biodiversity and archaeological assessments where required
  • details of any mitigation that will lessen the effect of the project
  • an appended collection of your evidence

Landscape assessment

Youll need a landscape assessment for projects that:

  • add or move field boundaries
  • redistribute earth or other materials
  • change the structure of your agricultural landscape

Your assessment needs a:

  • desk assessment
  • field survey carried out by a qualified agent or consultant
  • summary assessment of your projects effects on the landscape

Your desk assessment will describe the landscape qualities and the field survey should verify these findings. You can get landscape information from your local council and by consulting:

Your desk assessment needs to include:

  • a local landscape character assessment using information from the National Character Area (NCA) profiles
  • identification of the project areas landscape qualities
  • the potential effects of the project
  • a 1:25,000 scale map of the area from which the project is theoretically visible, known as the zone of visual influence

Your field survey will:

  • verify the desk assessment with clear photographic and mapped evidence of the landscape and its condition
  • summarise the projects effect on the landscape characteristics

Your summary assessment needs to include the effect of your project on the landscape.

Biodiversity assessment

ESRs for uncultivated land projects will need a biodiversity assessment. This includes a desk assessment verified by a field survey where needed. A summary assessment should include your projects effects on biodiversity.

Your desk assessment needs to show what biodiversity is present. You can get biodiversity data from the MAGIC website and by consulting:

Using data from your consultations, verify:

Your field survey will be used to verify the findings of the desk assessment including assessing habitat condition. If youre not disputing consultation results

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