Defra inches closer to private sector environmental schemes

Farmers and landowners in England have moved closer to benefitting from more private sector cash for delivering environmental services from companies such as property developers.

In what could be one of Michael Gove’s final acts as environment secretary before a cabinet reshuffle, Defra has published its response to a number of consultations relating to provisions set out in the Environment Bill, first announced in December 2018.

One of the commitments is to require developers to demonstrate a 10% net gain in habitat value for wildlife compared with the situation pre-development for each project they do.

See also: Environmental Land Management Scheme – what we know so far

This is likely to be done by them paying farmers to manage land in longer-term environment schemes than currently exist.

Defra has therefore also committed to proposals that will see the schemes be imposed with binding conservation covenants, which will require the terms of the scheme to be upheld even if the land changes hands.

Similar powers to the proposed conservation covenants already exist in Scotland, said Emily Norton, head of rural research at Savills, but she warned that more clarification was needed on how this mechanism would work before landowners should be satisfied.

Further detail is needed on what the implication for the value of the land would be by imposing restrictions on its use, she said, as well as if there would be inheritance tax implications by it being designated to deliver environmental outcomes.

There is also currently no information on how a register of these schemes would be managed, raising the question of how purchasers would discover covenants imposed on land for sale.

Defra has said the Environment Bill will be brought before parliament early in the second session, which will begin in September following the summer recess.