Environmental management – guidance

EIA (Agriculture) regulations: apply to make changes to rural land

Find out when you need to apply for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) screening or consent decision to change rural land.

Uncultivated land and semi-natural areas are protected against agricultural activities that might damage them. Semi-natural land is land that hasn’t been intensively farmed, such as unimproved grassland or lowland heath.

You must follow this guidance or you risk prosecution, a fine of up to £5,000 and you might have to restore land to its previous condition. Your Basic Payment Scheme, Environmental Stewardship or Countryside Stewardship payments may also be affected.

You need to ask Natural England for their decision on whether your proposal to change rural land is likely to have a significant effect on the environment. This is known as an EIA screening decision.

When you need to get permission to change rural land

You must apply to Natural England for an EIA screening decision if you propose to change rural land that’s:

  • semi-natural or hasn’t been cultivated in the last 15 years

  • over 2 hectares

You need to apply for a screening decision to change semi-natural areas or uncultivated land that could be damaged by the following activities.

Increasing agricultural productivity

You need permission if you’re:

  • increasing the use of fertiliser or soil improvers

  • sowing seed that will increase grassland productivity

  • ploughing, tine harrowing and rotovating the land (except for low level cultivation by spring tine-harrowing and chain-harrowing)

  • draining land

  • clearing existing vegetation and scrub over an area of 2 hectares, either physically or using herbicides

Restoring semi-natural grassland or semi-natural heathland

You need permission if sowing seed for restoration of land involves disrupting the soil surface as a form of cultivation. If you can show there’s no increase of agricultural productivity then you won’t need a screening decision.

Altering field boundaries

You need permission to:

  • add or remove field boundaries that are over 4km long
  • add or remove field boundaries that are over 2km long for land in sensitive areas (that is, national parks and The Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty and scheduled monuments)

Moving or redistributing earth

You need permission 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 sensitive area, 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

  • introduce mixed wildflower seed

  • clear invasive non-native vegetation

Apply for a screening decision

You need to apply before you start work.

You can contact Natural England for informal advice before you submit a screening application.

How to apply

Complete the relevant form for projects that:

Natural England will tell you within 35 days of receiving your application whether you:

  • can proceed

  • need to get consent to carry out the work

You need to prepare an environmental statement if you’re applying for consent. You should discuss this with Natural England before submitting your application.

Natural England can give you a scoping opinion, that tells you what your environmental statement and consent application should contain. Natural England will send you the scoping opinion within 5 weeks of your request.

You must start projects that have been granted consent within 1 year of the consent date and complete it within 3 years. You must re-apply for consent if you miss the deadline.

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 similarly accessible place such as a public notice in the town hall or library.

Outcome of Natural England’s screening decisions

See the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2006: public register (PDF, 2.71MB, 274 pages) for all screening decisions reached since regulations came into force in October 2006.

You must send your appeal to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs within 3 months of the decision notice being published by Natural England.

EIA (agriculture) regulations decision appeal
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Nobel House
17 Smith Square
London
SW1P 3JR

Email: defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Contact

Contact the EIA team for further advice

Environmental Impact Assessment Unit
Natural England
First Floor, Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Bristol
BS1 6DG

Email: eia.england@naturalengland.org.uk

Telephone: 0800 028 2140