Find out when you need to apply for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) screening or consent decision to change rural land use.
The content on this page is in BETA following a change in the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) Regulations 2017
The EIA regulations protect rural land in England that’s uncultivated or semi-natural from changes in agricultural activities that might cause damage by:
- increasing productivity
- physically changing field boundaries
Uncultivated land is land that hasn’t been cultivated in the last 15 years by:
- physical means, such as ploughing or an activity that breaks the soil surface
- chemical means, such as adding fertiliser or soil improvers
Semi-natural land includes priority habitats, heritage or archaeological features, or protected landscapes. It’s usually land that hasn’t been intensively farmed, such as unimproved grassland or lowland heath.
You must use this guidance to follow EIA regulations if you want to change rural land use. Failure to follow EIA regulations means you could:
- be prosecuted
- be fined up to £5,000
- have to restore land to its previous condition
EIA regulations are part of cross compliance, the rules you must follow if you have agreements in:
- the Basic Payment Scheme
- Countryside Stewardship
- Environmental Stewardship
Failure to follow EIA regulations could affect your payments.
When to get permission to change rural land
Natural England must decide if your proposal to change the use of rural land is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. You must apply for this decision, known as an ‘EIA screening decision’ before you change rural land. There are several ways to change the use of rural land.
Increasing productivity of land for agriculture
You need a screening decision if you propose to affect uncultivated or semi-natural land by:
- disrupting the soil surface by ploughing, tine harrowing or rotovating
- 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, either physically or using herbicides
- increasing stock density that will result in improved vegetation from grazing
Land under 2 hectares
You can’t work on separate projects under the 2ha threshold which are on the same landholding if they go on to exceed 2ha overall.
Natural England also needs to consider proposals to change land under the 2ha threshold that’s of regional significance if it:
- is semi-natural
- has heritage features, such as above or below-ground archaeological sites
- has special landscape features, such as a historic parkland
Restoring semi-natural grassland or semi-natural heathland
You need a screening decision if sowing seed for restoration of land disrupts the soil surface as a form of cultivation and increases agricultural productivity.
Altering field boundaries
You need a screening decision if you intend to:
- add or remove field boundaries that are over 4km long
- add or remove field boundaries that are over 2km long for land in protected areas, such as a national park, area of outstanding natural beauty or site of a scheduled monument
- add new fencing on common land that meets the same criteria above (these were previously exempt from the Regulations)
Moving or redistributing earth
You need a screening decision to add, remove or redistribute earth or other material if it’s:
- 10,000 cubic metres or more
- an area of 100 hectares or more
For land in a protected area, such as a national park or area of outstanding natural beauty, you need permission to add, remove or redistribute earth or other material if it’s:
- 5,000 cubic metres or more
- an area of 50 hectares or more
You don’t need permission to:
- replace nutrients on semi-natural land as long as it doesn’t result in increased agricultural output - for example applying low levels of lime or farmyard manure to hay meadows as part of its traditional management
- introduce mixed wildflower seed
- clear invasive non-native vegetation
Apply for an EIA screening decision
You must apply for a screening decision before changing rural land that’s equal or over the 2ha threshold, or meets the criteria under the 2ha threshold.
You can contact Natural England for informal advice before you submit a screening application.
Submit a report
You must include a report when you apply for a screening decision. You must make sure the report includes a description of the:
- overall project
- physical features of the site and where demolition will take place, if relevant
- location and likely environmental effect of proposed changes
- effects of residues or emissions expected from waste production
- use of natural resources particularly soil, land, water
- biodiversity (plants and wildlife and their habitat) on site
Natural England is likely to reject a report that doesn’t provide the required information and ask for it to be redone. Contact Natural England for an up-to-date list of consultants able to do this, if required.
Submit your EIA screening application
Complete the relevant form for projects that:
- increase the productivity for agriculture of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas Form EIA 1
- physically restructure rural land holdings Form EIA 1a
Natural England will take between 35 and 90 days (depending on the complexity of your proposal) from receiving your application to decide whether you:
- can proceed
- need to apply for consent to carry out the work
A screening decision is valid for 3 years.
You must get all other permissions and changes to land management agreements you may have before you can start work, such as:
- making sure your proposal doesn’t breach the requirements of a Countryside Stewardship agreement
- getting permission from the Environment Agency if your proposal includes spraying within one metre of a watercourse
Apply for a consent decision
Natural England’s screening decision will determine whether your proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. You’ll need permission, known as a ‘consent decision’ to carry out works if this is the case.
To apply for a consent decision you need to prepare an environmental assessment report. Use an experienced specialist, such as your environmental consultant to do this. You can discuss your report with Natural England before submitting your application.
Natural England can tell you what your environmental statement and consent application should contain (known as a ‘scoping decision’). Natural England will send you their scoping opinion within 5 weeks of your request. You must base your environmental assessment report on the advice you get from Natural England.
You must start projects that have been granted consent within one year of the consent date and complete it within 3 years. You must re-apply for consent if you miss the deadline.
Consent and screening decisions
Natural England will publish its consent decision so it’s available to anyone local to the relevant land. This may be in a newspaper or a public notice in a town hall or library.
Outcome of Natural England’s screening decisions
See thefor all screening decisions.
Appeal against a screening or consent decision
You must send your appeal to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs within 3 months of Natural England publishing the decision notice.
EIA (agriculture) regulations decision appeal
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
17 Smith Square
Contact the EIA team for further advice.
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Unit
Freephone 0800 028 2140