Conservation covenants: criteria for being a responsible body

Updated 2 May 2024

Applies to England

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will use these criteria to decide whether an organisation can become a responsible body.

An organisation will need to continue to meet these criteria to remain a responsible body.

Defra’s criteria for becoming and remaining a responsible body are:

  • eligibility
  • financial security
  • operational capacity and capability
  • ongoing suitability


To become a responsible body, your organisation must have an operating base in the UK that allows it to properly carry out its conservation covenant functions. This means that the main activities to deliver conservation covenants and the people delivering them must be located in the UK.

Your organisation must also be one of the following:

  • a local authority
  • a public body or charity, where at least some of its main purposes or functions relate to conservation
  • a body other than a public body or charity, where at least some of its main activities relate to conservation

Financial security

Defra will check:

  • your organisation has a UK bank account
  • your organisation’s financial situation is secure
  • your organisation has adequate internal fiscal and administrative control for long term financial viability

These checks may include identifying:

  • if your organisation has received previous government funding
  • any grant funding allocations, and how your organisation used the money
  • any late financial reporting in your organisation’s filing history on the Companies House register
  • if your organisation is in financial difficulties – for example, administration, liquidation, or any insolvency proceedings, whether pending or in the last 5 years

Defra may carry out due diligence checks using Spotlight, the Cabinet Office’s automated tool.

If your organisation is a charity, Defra will also check if it has been subject to a Charity Commission inquiry in the previous 3 years.

Operational capacity and capability

Your organisation must have the capacity and capability to manage and enforce the types of covenants you expect to enter into.

Defra may check:

  • expertise – for example, that your organisation has access to ecologists or agronomists relevant to nature conservation or the equivalent for heritage conservation, and surveyors for any land-related aspects
  • workforce – that your organisation has a structure and capacity that will allow it to effectively deliver conservation covenants, work collaboratively with landowners to achieve successful outcomes, and monitor and evaluate projects
  • contingency planning – that your organisation is able to plan and develop contingency measures for unplanned changes
  • monitoring and enforcement – that your organisation is able to monitor compliance and take action to address breaches of agreements
  • dispute resolution – that your organisation has a track record of resolving disputes or proposed processes for dispute resolution
  • structures and governance – that your organisation has clear structures and governance that ensure it can effectively report and escalate issues, as well as identify, mitigate and escalate conflicts of interest
  • track record – your organisation’s proven track record for environmental or heritage responsibility, where available

Ongoing suitability

If your organisation is successfully designated as a responsible body, it must continue to meet the criteria for being one.

If your organisation’s circumstances change and you think it no longer meets one or more of the criteria, you must notify Defra as soon as possible.

Changes in circumstances may include:

  • disputes with landowners about the delivery of a covenant that your organisation or the courts are unable to resolve, and that mean the conservation covenant is no longer operating for the public good
  • being subject to any new criminal prosecution, civil sanctions, fraud or insolvency proceedings
  • being subject to a new Charity Commission inquiry
  • any new conflicts of interest that affect the delivery of any covenant – you must also notify Defra of how you will resolve the conflict of interest
  • any changes in your organisation’s financial situation that significantly affect the delivery of any covenant
  • changes in the expertise required to deliver conservation covenants, as recorded on the published list of designated responsible bodies
  • changes in your organisation’s main purposes, functions or activities that mean they no longer relate to conservation
  • any other changes that you think may affect your organisation’s ability to perform its functions as a responsible body, the delivery of any conservation covenant, or that mean your organisation no longer meets all the criteria for being a responsible body

If you fail to notify Defra of any changes in circumstances, they may remove your organisation from the list of designated responsible bodies.