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  • by Karma Loveday

Defra consultation on "conservation covenants” for Environment Bill

Defra s consulting on how best to introduce “conservation covenants” – a new tool to protect the environment, pledged in the 25 Year Environment Plan.

The covenants are voluntary but legally-binding agreements which enable landowners to leave a permanent conservation legacy on their land for future generations. They would be binding on future owners of the land and would be overseen by responsible bodies to ensure land management obligations are delivered.

Payment for ecosystem services is one of the scenarios the government envisages could be suitable for a conservation covenant. It provided the following example: “An area of woodland upstream of a river which passes near homes has helped to mitigate localised flooding. After negotiations, the landowner agrees to continue with current land management practices, restoring and maintaining the woodland in return for a yearly payment. The obligations for land management and annual payments are set out in a covenant between the landowner and the responsible body.”

Other potential scenarios for conservation covenant use include:

• altruistic uses - for example, to guarantee public access;

• securing heritage sites;

• an alternative to land purchase by conservation organisations;

• disposals of land by conservation organisations – to ensure future owners continue the conservation work;

• net gain for biodiversity - a conservation covenant provides one possible mechanism for securing permanent land-management obligations for the area of improved habitat.

Environment secretary, Michael Gove (pictured), 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.”

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