Guidance

Environmental Impact Assessments for woodland

This page provides information on Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for forestry projects in England. It guides you on whether you need to submit an EIA application form to the Forestry Commission, and tells you how to do this if required.

Applies to England

Our Environmental Impact Assessment application forms have changed. If you are in the process of applying for an EIA using our old forms, you can still submit your application until 31 March 2022.

What is a forestry Environmental Impact Assessment?

A forestry Environmental Impact Assessment is how you, as a project proposer, can check whether your forestry project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

Those projects that are likely to have a significant effect on the environment will require Consent from the Forestry Commission before they can go ahead.

Forestry Environmental Impact Assessments are split into two stages:

  • Stage 1: apply to the Forestry Commission for its view on whether your project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment

  • Stage 2: apply to the Forestry Commission for Consent

Submitting a ‘stage 1’ EIA and receiving a Forestry Commission decision can provide you with assurance that your project will not have a significant effect on the environment. If this is the case then you do not require ‘Consent’ from the Forestry Commission before proceeding with your project and you can be certain that you will not face enforcement action for doing so.

Alternatively, if the Forestry Commission decides at ‘stage 1’ that your project will have a significant effect on the environment, then you must apply for ‘stage 2’ Consent prior to carrying out your project, or you may face enforcement action.

A ‘stage 2’ EIA is the application for Consent, for those projects identified as being likely to have a significant effect on the environment at ‘stage 1’.

Applications at stage 1 or 2 can be made by agents, landowners, or any other project proposer at any time. However, to enact your project after an EIA decision or assessment, you must have the permission of the relevant land owner.

The forestry EIA process is governed by the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999.

What projects need a forestry EIA?

There are four types of forestry project where you may apply for a forestry EIA.

Afforestation

Afforestation means conversion of a non-woodland land use, for example agriculture, into woodland or forest (these terms are used interchangeably) by means of planting, or facilitating natural regeneration (self-sowing) of trees to form woodland cover. This can include proposals for short rotation coppice (SRC) and short rotation forestry (SRF), including energy crops and Christmas tree plantations.

Deforestation

Deforestation means removal of woodland cover for conversion to another land use. This can include proposals for the removal of short rotation coppice (SRC) and short rotation forestry (SRF), including the removal of energy crops and Christmas tree plantations.

Forest roads

Forest road projects include the formation, alteration or maintenance of private ways on land used (or to be used) for forestry purposes, including roads within a forest or leading to one.

Forestry quarries

Forest quarry projects include quarrying to obtain materials required for forest roadworks on land that is used or will be used for forestry purposes.

Application forms and guidance

There are two further guidance pages to support your EIA application:

There are three different application forms for the different forestry projects (forest road and forest quarry projects share the same form):

Each form comes with supporting guidance which provides question by question guidance on how to complete each of the forms. This guidance can be found on the application form page.

Each project requires a separate EIA application. For instance, if compensatory planting is required (in a different location) for your deforestation project, the planting will need its own EIA afforestation application form. If you are planning a forest road within an afforestation project, the road will need its own EIA forest road or quarry application form.

Do I need to apply?

Listed below are examples of projects that might be exempt from the EIA process. If your forestry project does not meet these exemptions, and meets the size thresholds, it is likely to need an EIA.

Grant applications

If you are applying for a woodland creation grant that is administered in whole or in part by the Forestry Commission you are advised not to submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application. In most instances, the information provided in your grant application will meet the information requirements of the EIA application form.

If you have an approved Stage 2 Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG), you can submit this plan alongside any future EIA application for afforestation that you make. This will save you time by removing the need to complete all sections of the ‘stage 1’ EIA application.

The WCPG is for planning only and does not provide approval to plant. Proposals with an approved WCPG Stage 2 plans are still subject to the forestry EIA regulations (i.e. you may still need to submit an EIA application). If you are in doubt, contact the Forestry Commission before applying.

If your proposal is development-related (i.e. requiring planning permission) then it will normally be screened by the local planning authority under the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2017, providing that the planning application or approval has explicitly identified the location for the forestry proposal. In this case, you won’t need to apply for a forestry EIA.

In rare instances where a forestry proposal is part of a development related proposal (i.e. requiring planning permission) but the precise location of the forestry proposal has not been identified, then you may apply to the Forestry Commission for a forestry EIA decision. For example, when X hectares of afforestation are required as a condition to a planning permission, but the location of that planting has not been specified within the planning permission, you may apply for a forestry EIA.

Permitted development

Permitted development in the context of forestry is covered by the forestry EIA regulations. If your proposal contains permitted development in relation to forestry, submit an EIA ‘stage 1’ application form. You will also need to provide confirmation from the local planning authority that they have accepted that the work qualifies as permitted development.

Afforestation proposals under 0.5 ha

Planting or natural regeneration of less than 0.5 hectares will not be considered afforestation under the forestry EIA regulations. Therefore, you do not need to apply for a ‘stage 1’ EIA from the Forestry Commission for afforestation proposals less than 0.5 hectares, unless your proposal is adjacent to another afforestation project completed within the last five years. See adjacent projects.

Presumptions against significant effect

The forestry EIA regulations create a presumption that some projects will not be likely to have a significant effect.

These are generally smaller scale projects and those that lie on less sensitive land. However, this presumption is not a guarantee. The Forestry Commission retains the right to decide that these projects are likely to have a significant effect on the environment, and potentially take enforcement action against you for not having a ‘stage 2’ EIA Consent. This is often referred to as ‘calling in’ a project.

If you, as an applicant, are willing to assume this risk, then you may choose not to submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application for these project types. See the ‘Thresholds’ section to identify which projects fall into these presumption categories.

Types of ‘stage 1’ forestry EIAs

There are two types of ‘stage 1’ forestry EIA application: an ‘application for Opinion’ and a ‘Notification’. The type of ‘stage 1’ application has some bearing on how your application is processed by the Forestry Commission. However, as the applicant, you submit the same application form regardless of the type of ‘stage 1’ EIA you are applying for.

Applications for Opinion

All proposals for deforestation, forest road and quarries will result in your ‘stage 1’ EIA application being classed as an ‘application for Opinion’.

Only some types of afforestation proposals will result in your ‘stage 1’ EIA application being classed as an ‘application for Opinion’. The threshold tables for afforestation identify which afforestation project this applies to. If your ‘stage 1’ application is classed as an application for Opinion, you must wait to hear back from the Forestry Commission on your application or appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if you do not hear back in a timely manner.

You cannot take the absence of a response as deemed approval.

Notifications – afforestation only

To support tree planting in England, the Forestry Commission fast-tracks small, or low risk, afforestation projects. When an afforestation project is small and on non-sensitive land, your ‘stage 1’ application will be classed as a Notification.

There are two kinds of Notification, basic and full. Basic Notification is for smaller projects, Full Notification is for larger ones. The threshold tables for afforestation show which projects you must submit a Notification for. If your project is eligible for a Notification, you must, under the regulations, submit a ‘stage 1’ application.

If your ‘stage 1’ EIA application is classed as a Notification, and the Forestry Commission does not come back to you within a specified time, then you can assume that your proposal does not need a ‘stage 2’ EIA application for Consent. No further action will then be required under the EIA Regulations before you start work on your project.

Timescales for a decision

Grant funded schemes

If your ‘stage 1’ EIA application is submitted as part of a grant scheme application, then you will receive your EIA decision in line with the particular grant scheme deadlines. The deadlines set out below do not apply.

Basic Notification

If you’re eligible for Basic Notification, the Forestry Commission will give you a decision within 28 days, unless it asks you for more information or your EIA application is part of a woodland creation grant funding application. If you do not receive a response in this time period, you may proceed with your project.

Full Notification

If you’re eligible for Full Notification, the Forestry Commission will give you a decision within 42 days, unless it asks you for more information or your EIA application is part of a woodland creation grant funding application. If you do not receive a response in this time period, you may proceed with your project.

Application for Opinion

The Forestry Commission will expect to give you a decision within 28 days, unless it asks you for more information or your EIA application is part of a woodland creation grant funding application. If you do not receive a response in this time period, you cannot proceed with your project. You must wait for the Forestry Commission or the Minister to get back to you.

Further information requested

If the Forestry Commission asks for more information, you’ll get a request in writing and the decision period will be restarted once you’ve provided the requested information.

EIA thresholds

The forestry EIA regulations allow project proposers, and the Forestry Commission, to presume that some projects are not likely to have a significant effect on the environment (and therefore do not require a ‘stage 2’ EIA application for Consent).

This presumption is created for projects of a relatively small area and those that lie in less sensitive locations. However, this presumption is not a guarantee. The unique qualities of a site or a project may still cause the project to have a significant effect on the environment. The Forestry Commission may still ‘call in’ projects with this starting presumption as requiring ‘stage 2’ Consent and take enforcement action where necessary.

You can, using these starting presumptions, judge for yourself if you want to proceed without a ‘stage 1’ EIA application and decision. However, you will forgo the certainty of receiving a definitive ‘stage 1’ decision from the Forestry Commission. Doing so risks the Forestry Commission taking enforcement action against you (for instance, by requiring you to restore the land to its previous condition at your own expense).

Alternatively, you can submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application in order to gain certainty on whether Consent is required.

The threshold tables are listed below for each project type and size. When considering your proposal’s size, you should factor in any adjacent projects – see the section on adjacent projects. For each land sensitivity, the tables state the risk of not submitting an application. You can decide whether you want to assume this risk.

When a proposal lies across multiple types of land, the most sensitive threshold applies to the whole proposal. For example, where part of the proposal is in a sensitive area, and the other part is not, the whole project should be considered as being within the threshold for that sensitive area.

Threshold tables for afforestation proposals

Threshold table for afforestation proposals under 0.5 ha.

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Anywhere Yes No risk (such proposals are not deemed to ‘afforestation’) Application for Opinion

Threshold table for afforestation proposals of 0.5ha – 2ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Any part of the proposal is in ‘sensitive area’ that is not a National Park or AONB No High risk Application for Opinion
Any part of the proposal is in a National Park or AONB but no other ‘sensitive area’ OR no part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ Yes Low risk Application for Opinion

Threshold table for afforestation proposals >2ha – 5ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Any part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ No High risk Application for Opinion
No part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ Yes Mandatory requirement (you must submit a ‘stage 1’ application) Basic Notification

Threshold table for afforestation proposals >5ha – 50ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
The entire proposal is in a ‘low risk area’ Yes Mandatory requirement (you must submit a ‘stage 1’ application) Full Notification
Any part of the proposal is outside a ‘low risk area’ No High risk Application for Opinion

Threshold table for afforestation proposals over 50ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Anywhere No High risk Application for Opinion

Threshold tables for deforestation proposals

Threshold table for deforestation proposals 0.5ha or less

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Any part of the proposal is in ‘sensitive area’ that is not a National Park or AONB No High risk Application for Opinion
Any part of the proposal is in a National Park or AONB but no other sensitive area OR No part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ Yes Low risk Application for Opinion

Threshold table for deforestation proposals >0.5ha – 1ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Any part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ Yes High risk Application for Opinion
No part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ No [Low risk Application for Opinion

Threshold table for deforestation proposals over 1ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Anywhere No High risk Application for Opinion

Threshold tables for road or quarry proposals

Threshold table for road or quarry proposals 1ha or less

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Any part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ Yes High risk Application for Opinion
No part of the proposal is in a ‘sensitive area’ No Low risk Application for Opinion

Threshold table for road or quarry proposals over 1ha

Land sensitivity Is there a presumption against likely significant effect? If I don’t submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, what’s the risk? Type of ‘Stage 1’ application
Anywhere No High risk Application for Opinion

Adjacent projects

When using the thresholds table, the area of any forestry projects of the same type as your proposal (e.g. afforestation) completed within the last five years that are adjacent to your proposal must be added to the area of your new proposal when determining your proposal’s threshold.

‘Adjacent’ is taken to mean any part of the project is within 500m of your proposal.

In the context of afforestation, ‘completed’ is taken to mean when the planting and other associated works (e.g. deer fence construction) have taken place. Trees do not have to have fully established in order for the project to be completed.

For example, proposing to afforest 2 hectares within 500m of a 4ha afforestation scheme completed 3 years ago will mean that your project will be considered to be 6ha (2 plus 4) in size, when determining the threshold that it falls within.

Sensitive areas

Sensitive areas are defined by the forestry EIA regulations. They are used to work out what threshold your project falls within. Land is a ‘sensitive area’ if it includes any of the following:

  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or Proposed SSSIs (PSSSIs)
  • National Parks
  • the Norfolk Broads
  • World Heritage Sites, including their designated buffer zones
  • Scheduled Monuments
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)
  • Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)
  • Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
  • Ramsar sites
  • National Nature Reserves
  • local nature reserves that are not designated by local authorities

You can check whether any part of your proposal is in the sensitive areas listed above by using the Forestry Commission map browser. Within this browser, you can use the Forestry Commission’s Land Information Search tool to automatically check for sensitive areas.

Local nature reserves not designated by local authorities will be mapped on the Forestry Commission map browser. Check on Natural England’s Designated Sites page to see whether a reserve’s declaring authority is a local authority (such as a borough or county council) or otherwise (e.g. a National Park Authority or a town or parish council.)

Only local nature reserves declared by other authorities, such as the Lake District National Park Authority, are considered a ‘sensitive area’.

Low risk areas for woodland creation

{#low-risk-land}

Relevant to afforestation proposals only.

Low risk areas for woodland creation (‘low risk land’) can be found on the Forestry Commission’s Map Browser, and the Forestry Commission’s Land Information Search.

The ‘low risk land’ map layer screens land for environmental sensitivity. Afforestation proposals on ‘low risk land’ are considered less likely to have a significant effect on the environment, but you should still check for local sensitivities, such as tree preservation orders, non-statutory historic assets, and peaty soils, as part of your ‘stage 1’ application. You will be asked about these in your ‘stage 1’ EIA application form.

You can find a single layer on the Forestry Commission’s Map Browser for all ‘low risk land’. For information, land identified as ‘low risk land’ is land which is not in any ‘sensitive area’.

‘Low risk land’ also excludes:

  • areas of peat over 50cm deep
  • RSPB Important Bird Areas
  • Acid Vulnerable Catchments
  • local nature reserves (designated by local authorities)
  • common land
  • land grant funded within Higher Level Stewardship
  • the best and most versatile agricultural land (Land Classes 1 – 3a)
  • priority habitats (listed under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006)
  • registered battlefields
  • registered parks and gardens

If one or more of the above constraints are present on the land, it will not be identified as ‘low risk land’.

Application process

1. Bring your proposal together

Use your own forestry experience or seek advice from a professional forestry agent to design your proposal. Engage with your local and statutory stakeholders who may have an interest in your proposal’s site. Gather information on the site and other sources and use that information to design a UK Forestry Standard-compliant forestry project.

You can use the following checklists to make sure you have gathered the necessary starting information:

The above checks can be done as good practice, or to help inform your ‘stage 1’ EIA application form.

The Forestry Commission will not undertake stakeholder engagement on your behalf, so it is important to complete this stage before you submit an application.

2. Complete and send a ‘stage 1’ EIA application form

Once your proposal has been drawn together, complete a ‘stage 1’ EIA application form using the information you’ve gathered. Supporting guidance is available on each form’s page to help you fill in this form.

Send your completed form, maps and other supporting evidence to your local Forestry Commission administrative hub.

If the Forestry Commission requires further information it will contact you requesting this.

If the Forestry Commission decides that ‘stage 2’ Consent is not required for your project, it will inform you in writing. You will be able to proceed with your proposal, providing it has not changed, and providing you have the appropriate grant funding approved or felling licence in place, as necessary.

Decisions last for a period of five years or any shorter period specified.

If the Forestry Commission decides that ‘stage 2’ Consent for the work is required, it will inform you in writing. If you wish to progress with your proposal you will be required to produce an application for Consent, incorporating an Environmental Statement, in order to get a ‘stage 2’ decision about whether or not the work can proceed.

If the Forestry Commission decides your project has a significant impact on the environment, you must get its Consent for the work before you start.

Your application will need to include an Environmental Statement and you will have to scope the project. For more help, read the ‘Scoping guidance’ Undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment in Forestry (Scoping) (PDF, 652 KB, 31 pages) and or contact the Forestry Commission.

You can ask the Forestry Commission to skip ‘stage 1’ and immediately consider your application as a ‘stage 2’ EIA Application for Consent under the regulations. This means you do not have to wait for a ‘stage 1’ EIA decision on whether the project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment and, therefore, whether an EIA stage 2 Application for Consent is in fact required.

Proceeding immediately to stage 2 is only likely to be beneficial to you if you are exceptionally confident that your project is highly likely to have a significant effect on the environment, because of its location within a designated or sensitive area, its scale, or for some other reason.

In most cases, the Forestry Commission strongly advises applicants to submit a ‘stage 1’ EIA application first and allow the Forestry Commission to evaluate if EIA ‘stage 2’ Consent would be required. However, if you’re certain that an application for Consent is required, it’s possible to apply for Consent without completing the previous steps.

Steps for how to apply for Consent are below.

1. Make preliminary enquiries

Speak to your local Forestry Commission Woodland Officer about your project and the need to apply for Consent. They will help you to decide which organisations may need to be involved with providing information that might help the preparation of the Environmental Statement.

2. Hold a scoping meeting

A scoping meeting between you, the Forestry Commission, relevant organisations, consultees and interested parties, such as neighbours, will help to identify the particular issues that the Environmental Statement must address.

3. Prepare an Environmental Statement (ES)

The purpose of an ES is to provide the Forestry Commission and other interested parties with as full an understanding of the consequences of the proposals as possible. You should agree the structure and content to be covered by the ES with the Forestry Commission before producing a draft.

4. Prepare the application

You will need to include:

  • a map showing the area where the project is proposed, and the extent of any planting, regeneration, construction, works or operations - this should be a clear Ordnance Survey map at a scale of 1:10,000 or 1:2,500
  • a description of the nature of the relevant project
  • any other information that might be relevant, such as species maps, plans and photographs
  • the ES for the work
  • a copy of the publicity notice that you must place in newspapers (this should only be done once the ES has been finalised with the Forestry Commission, and the wording of the notice agreed)
  • if you are applying directly for EIA ‘stage 2’ Consent without submitting a ‘stage 1’ EIA application, you should also submit an EIA application form, with the last section ‘Applying for EIA Consent’ filled in

Please note, if you’ve previously sent a ‘stage 1’ EIA application you may have already supplied some of this information. This information can be reused to help inform your ES. You can also use other relevant and equivalent ES from other similar projects as part of your application for Consent, rather than having to recreate the required evidence, so long as the information is applicable to your project.

5. Send the application

Send the documents to your local administrative hub.

The Forestry Commission may ask for multiple copies of the application documents to send to appropriate consultees.

6. Publicise the Environmental Statement and consult

Once the Forestry Commission is satisfied that the ES addresses all the issues of concern as agreed at the scoping meeting, you must make a public notice.

Place the public notice (advertisement) in local newspapers and/or electronically, as directed by the Forestry Commission. You are responsible for the cost of this notice.

Full details about the contents of the notice are given in the Undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment in Forestry (Scoping) (PDF, 652 KB, 31 pages).

You must make copies of the application and the ES available in public places, such as the local library and post office. The Forestry Commission will advise you about suitable locations.

The Forestry Commission will give details of your application to the appropriate consultees and statutory bodies as well as the local authority with an interest in the application. They’re required to give their comments within 30 days.

Proposals to carry out new planting or felling will appear on the Consultation Register for Grant Schemes, Felling and EIA applications.

7. The Forestry Commission responds

The Forestry Commission will respond with one of three possible decisions. You will either be:

  • granted Consent subject to the standard conditions (that the work must be started within five years from the date of Consent and finished no later than 10 years from the date of Consent)
  • granted Consent subject to the standard conditions (above) plus other additional conditions
  • refused Consent

8. The Forestry Commission publicises the decision

After notifying you and other interested parties about their decision, the Forestry Commission will advertise their decision in the same newspapers in which the notice of the application for Consent was placed and will be responsible for the cost of this notice.

Enforcement

If the Forestry Commission discovers that you are carrying out work subject to forestry EIA regulations without Consent, or that you have breached the conditions of a previously granted Consent, they may serve an Enforcement Notice. This will require you to, among other things, restore the land to its previous condition. Failure to comply with an Enforcement Notice carries a penalty on conviction of an unlimited fine.

Who can be served an Enforcement Notice?

An Enforcement Notice can be served on anyone involved in carrying out or authorising the project.

Further information

If you have any questions, you can contact your nearest Forestry Commission area office.

Published 28 September 2021