Protect your payments by protecting semi-natural habitats

Apply for permission from DAERA before beginning works to improve uncultivated land or semi-natural areas
Apply for permission from DAERA before beginning works to improve uncultivated land or semi-natural areas

Have you bought or inherited land recently? Have you left an agri-environment scheme recently? Are you a successful applicant to the Young Farmer/New Entrant Regional Reserve Scheme?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions and you wish to safeguard your BPS payment - then it’s important that you are aware of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (Agriculture) Regulations.

DAERA has recently identified that farmers in these categories have been responsible for most of the breaches of the EIA Regulations. These breaches have resulted in penalties and loss of Basic Payment Scheme payment to these businesses.

Land improvements

Nearly every farm has an area of unimproved land that may be earmarked for agricultural improvement. These ‘rough’ semi-natural areas are protected under both Cross Compliance and the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007.

Typically they include habitats like old grassland, hay meadows, woodland, scrub, bogs, wetlands and moorland and occasionally archaeological features. Land is considered to be uncultivated if, in the last 15 years, it has not received any or minimal inputs of chemicals including fertilisers, manures or herbicides and has not been physically cultivated or re-seeded.

These semi-natural areas are agriculturally less productive compared to improved fields but they generally have greater environmental value. As well as being havens for wildlife they also provide other valuable ‘public good’ services such as water and carbon storage, flood prevention and protection against land erosion.

Cross Compliance and the EIA Regulations

If you receive payments from EU area based schemes you are required by Cross Compliance not to plough, cultivate or intensify (including the extraction of peat, sand or gravel) semi-natural habitats unless you comply with the EIA Regulations. EIA is a way of helping farmers, landowners and others to consider the environmental effects of changing the way they farm. Anyone intending to change the use or management of areas of uncultivated or semi-natural land must obtain prior approval from DAERA.

Generally, permission under the EIA Regulations is only required before carrying out land improvements on two hectares or more of uncultivated or semi-natural land. Work below two hectares can usually proceed without DAERA’s consent, unless the land is ‘environmentally valuable’.

Land is considered to be environmentally valuable if it lies within an environmentally designated site. Such sites include ASSI’s (Areas of Special Scientific Interest), SPA’s (Special Protection Areas) and SAC’s (Special Areas of Conservation). Consent from the NI Environment Agency is required before carrying out any works on ASSIs. AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are still considered environmentally sensitive, but do not require ASSI consent for works.

Works affected and

applications

Ploughing, drainage, re-seeding, harrowing, infilling, certain types of spraying or applying increased amounts of nutrients (fertilisers, slurries etc) are examples of land improvement covered by the Regulations. They also apply to farm projects which aim to physically restructure rural holdings, for example, by removing field boundaries or infilling land.

Non-compliance

Failure to comply with the EIA regulations by starting work without consent from DAERA, for example, could be a breach of Cross Compliance. This could result in a financial penalty being applied to the Basic Payment and other area-based schemes. It could also result in prosecution. Furthermore, usually the person(s) responsible for the damaging works have to reinstate the land to a satisfactory condition at their own expense.

What do you need to do?

Before commencing work you must apply for consent from DAERA by completing an application for an EIA screening decision. More information and EIA screening application forms are available on https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/environmental-impact-assessment-eia-0 or contact DAERA at areabasedschemes@daera-ni.gov.uk for further advice.