EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) regulations for agricultureare in place to protect semi-natural and uncultivated land in England, which may be changed or destroyed by activities to increase productivity or change physical boundaries. They are part of the wider Cross Compliance regulations.

The most common area it covers in everyday farming, is the ploughing or re-seeding of old permanent pasture. Many clients will be familiar with a pasture that has become ‘worn – out’, however if the last time it was re-seeded was 15 or more years ago, the chances are, this will fall within the EIA regulations, and require a screening decision from Natural England before you can touch the field.

What is a screening decision?

Loosely speaking, a screening decision is when Natural England’s EIA team decide whether your application to change land falls within the EIA regulationsand if it does, whether permission should be granted.

What does it consist of?

  • An application form answering basic questions about the proposed project, e.g. ploughing and re-seeding permanent pasture, features on the land, and why you want to do it, e.g. to increase productivity. 

  • A full description of the project and its effect on the environment, including references to soil, landscape and biodiversity, descriptions of the environmental sensitivity of the projectand mitigations to lessen the effect of the project 

  • Maps and plans for the project and the area likely to be affected 

  • Paid consultations from your local authorities (usually county council or wildlife group such as Wildlife Trust) dealing with landscape & biodiversity, botanical surveys and archaeological assessments

When exactly do I need to apply for a screening decision?

To help you decide if your project needs the go-ahead from Natural England, we have put together the main points of the regulations:
 
  • For all grassland that hasn’t been physically or chemically cultivated within the last 15 years* 

  • For grassland which is semi-natural (Semi-natural land includes priority habitats, heritage or archaeological features, or protected landscapes. It’s usually land that has not been intensively farmed, such as unimproved grassland or lowland heath. Species such as bracken can also lead to the land being classed as semi-natural) 

  • The regulations are subject to a threshold of 2 hectares, however this is the cumulative total, so if you have two projects on the farm which are individually less than 2 hectares, they could still be subject to the EIA regulations 

  • If you have no records of chemical and/or physical cultivations that have taken place within the last 15 years. If you have applied manure or fertiliser regularly but do not have records of this, Natural England will deem these operations to NOT have taken place. Records can include diary entries, dated photographs, field records and witness statements.

*Chemical cultivations include: applications of pesticides/herbicides, applications of manure and fertiliser. Physical cultivations include: ploughing, or anything else which breaks the soil’s surface

If you have not ploughed or re-seeded your permanent pasture within the last 15 years, but do have records of regular applications of fertiliser/manure, and you are sure the land is not semi-natural, your project may not fall within the EIA regulationsHowever, as mentioned above, you must have records to show these applications have taken place.
 
In most cases, especially if in doubt, we always advise that you apply for a screening decision. There is a good chance that Natural England will either tell you your project can go ahead without their consent, or it is consented to with some compromise.
 
If there is anything of particular biological or archaeological interest within the field/ project area, it may need to be taken further by Natural England; in some rare cases, this involves the submission of an Environmental StatementNatural England will contact you if this is the case.
If you would like further advice on the above, or would like to speak to us about submitting an application for a screening decision on your behalf, please contact the office on 01981590514, or email us at info@cxcs.co.uk
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