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Stackyard News Sep 06

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    New farmer-friendly measures to protect countryside

New rules to protect the rural environment and help cut red tape for farmers were unveiled today by Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner.

New legislation, designed to protect wildlife and landscape and to make the rules simpler for farmers and land managers, will:

  • replace existing rules which protect uncultivated and semi-natural land from being damaged or destroyed by more intensive farming.
  • introduce new EU-wide rules which guard against possible negative environmental impacts from large-scale work such as adding or digging up field boundaries such as ditches and fences.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) Regulations 2006 will boost Defra's efforts to conserve and enhance the countryside alongside measures such as agri-environment schemes, sites of special scientific interest and existing laws to protect habitats and landscape.

Barry Gardiner said:

“The new regulations are a good example of Defra making law which protects the environment whilst minimising red tape for farmers. Farmers found the old rules on uncultivated and semi-natural land confusing - the new rules will be clearer, with more farmer-friendly definitions, and we have cut red tape by introducing thresholds below which the rules will not apply.

“The new rules on restructuring will guard against the possibility of major negative effects on the rural landscape, but they will not catch farmers engaging in routine farming activities. “

The rules will apply when work is likely to cause significant damage to the environment, and anyone wishing to do such work will have to apply to the new Natural England agency to determine whether an environmental impact assessment is required.


The proposed new Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations will apply to farmers and other managers. They will apply in England only. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will introduce similar legislation in the next few months.

The Regulations will restrict the ability of farmers and rural land managers to carry out relevant projects on land they own or rent. They will apply to:

  • projects which increase the productivity for agriculture of uncultivated land and/or semi-natural areas. Land covered will either (i) not have been cultivated (physically or chemically) in the last 15 years; and/or (ii) support a rich variety of self-seeded wild plants and associated wildlife. Activities covered will include the addition of soil improvers, increased levels of fertiliser, sowing seed, or physically disrupting soil (e.g. by ploughing, tine harrowing or rotavating) to make it more productive.
  • projects which physically restructure rural land holdings. This includes (i) addition or removal of field boundaries; and (ii) recontouring of land through addition, removal or redistribution of earth or other material.

Normally, the Regulations will only apply to projects over a certain size. For instance:

  • projects on uncultivated land and/or semi-natural areas will normally only be caught if the land concerned exceeds two hectares in area
  • restructuring projects will normally only be caught if they involve changes to more than four kilometres of field boundaries; movements of more than 10,000 cubic metres of earth or rock; or otherwise restructure an area in excess of 100 hectares
  • restructuring projects in sensitive areas (i.e. National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or Scheduled Ancient Monuments) are subject to lower thresholds of 50% of the values for other land.

The Regulations avoid overlap with similar regulatory regimes by specifically excluding work which is covered by other regimes: forestry projects, development under the planning system, land drainage and water management projects, removal of hedgerows and work on common land.

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