Making changes to rural land
The prospect for the future of farming looks, at best, somewhat cloudy at the moment. Faced with the proposed reduction in basic payments and the disruption caused by coronavirus, many businesses will currently be looking at their landholdings with a view to a bit of belt-tightening (or if there are not doing so, they probably should be).
One of the options which may be under consideration is the conversion of grass to arable or the improvement of poor quality grazing. The Government have recently made a timely reissue of the guidance on which changes to the treatment and usage of rural land require consent from Natural England. Most will be aware that established grassland cannot be ploughed without consent, but the regulations also apply to:
- 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 (or multiple areas exceeding 2 Ha in total), either physically or using herbicides
- increasing stock density that will result in improved vegetation from grazing
- adding or removing field boundaries over 4km long (2km in some circumstances)
- moving or redistributing more than 10,000 cubic meters of soil (5000 cubic meters in some areas)
Where projects will come within the scope of these restrictions, a screening decision will need to be given by the RPA, the application for which will require a full description of the scheme together with one or more of a landscape assessment, bio diversity assessment and archaeology assessment.
Failure to follow the regulations can lead to prosecution, a £5000 fine, and an order for restitution of the land, together with potentially subsidy clawbacks where the land is in Basic Payment or Stewardship claims. From an audit perspective, this is another area where assurance that the client has complied with laws and regulations may be required. Full details of the guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/eia-agriculture-regulations-apply-to-make-changes-to-rural-land