The aim of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) Regulations is to protect uncultivated and semi-natural areas from damage caused by agricultural works. Compliance with the Regulations is covered by the new cross-compliance rules under GAEC 6 (Maintenance of soil organic matter). Failure to adhere to the rules is a breach of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). GAEC 6 states that “You must comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (EIA) (2006) (Regulations 4, 9, 26 and 28) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations (1999) (Regulations 4(1) and 22). You can’t plough, cultivate or intensify species-rich and semi-natural habitats so as to keep organic matter and carbon levels in soils”.
To comply with the Regulations, a screening decision must be obtained from Natural England prior to an ‘uncultivated land project’ being started or carried out on an area of land of two or more hectares. An ‘uncultivated land project’ is a project that increases the agricultural productivity of an uncultivated or a semi-natural area. Land is judged to be uncultivated if, for the last 15 years, it has not been physically cultivated (such as ploughing and sub-surface harrowing) or chemically cultivated (such as applying fertilisers and soil improvers). ‘Semi-natural areas’ include bracken; species-rich hay meadow; fen, marsh and swamp; bog; semi-natural scrub; dwarf shrub heath; wet grassland in coastal and river flood plains; unimproved grassland; and standing water.
If your land falls within the definition above, you will need to contact the Natural England EIA team prior to undertaking work to increase the productivity of the land. The team can be contacted on 0800 028 2140 or eia.england@naturalengland.org.uk.
In some instances, Natural England may consider that a project falling below the EIA thresholds will, nonetheless, have a significant effect on the environment and an EIA will need to be carried out. In such cases, Natural England has the power to issue a screening notice that removes one or more of the thresholds and requires a screening application to be made.
Farmers are reminded that removing trees and woodland may be a project under the EIA (Forestry) Regulations. Before considering any tree or woodland removal, please contact your local Forestry Commission office