Defra opens consultation on plans for conservation covenants

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has opened a consultation on plans for conservation covenants which promise a new wave of legal safeguards for England's natural environment.

The Government is seeking views on how best to introduce conservation covenants, fulfilling a commitment made in the 25 Year Environment Plan. They are voluntary but legally-binding agreements which enable landowners to leave a permanent conservation legacy on their land for future generations.

The covenants, already used successfully in other countries, would allow landowners to make a public commitment to take positive actions to preserve and improve treasured features on their land such as trees, woodland or flower-rich meadow. They would be binding on future owners of the land and would be overseen by responsible bodies to ensure land management obligations are delivered.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said: "Conservation covenants are a valuable new tool to help protect our precious countryside. They allow landowners to safeguard nature on their land, securing long-term benefits and enabling vital investment in future conservation.

"These plans are a further step in our ambition to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. I urge people to have their say on the proposals, which we are considering for our forthcoming Environment Bill."

Legal covenants already exist to prevent certain types of actions, but by encouraging positive environmental actions, a conservation covenant may achieve a lasting legacy for land management for generations to come.

The main scenarios likely to involve the use of conservation covenants: 

  • Altruistic uses
  • Securing heritage sites
  • An alternative to land purchase by conservation organisations
  • Disposals of land by conservation organisations
  • Payment for ecosystem services
  • Net gain for biodiversity

They might also be used in a business context to secure the long-term maintenance of existing or newly created wildlife or heritage assets.

Professor Nicholas Hopkins, Commissioner for Property, Family and Trust Law at the Law Commission said:

"We are delighted that the Government is consulting on implementing our conservation covenants Report.

"These recommendations would make it simpler and easier for landowners to make agreements that that will protect the environment, archaeological sites and historically important buildings for generations to come."

The consultation will seek a range of views from the public and especially from key interested organisations and individuals including landowners, conservation groups and others. Feedback from these groups and individuals will help the Government in its consideration of the Law Commission’s proposals for legislation on conservation covenants in England through the Environment Bill.

Matthew Darby, landowner, farmer and trustee of the Kemerton Conservation Trust said:

"I’ve always wanted to protect some of the special parts of my farm forever – places with a bit of magic that deserve to be enjoyed by future generations.

"Conservation covenants could provide part of the answer. I see them acting as a bridge between landowners and those paying for public goods. I could invest this sum back into the farming business so that my family could continue to live on the land and care for it.

"These covenants could provide multiple wins – for families, for public goods, and for natural places."

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