DEFRA nature covenants to protect UK environment

DEFRA nature covenants
© iStock/Bettina_Sentner

The UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has proposed a range of legal safeguards for British nature and wildlife.

The department has begun a wide-ranging consultation on “conservation covenants”: legally binding, voluntarily implemented agreements permitting landowners to leave a portion of their land as a permanent legacy to be devoted to natural conservation efforts. These nature covenants, which have proved successful in trials in other countries, remain binding on successive landowners and are to be subject to dedicated oversight bodies which will ensure land which has been committed to conservation is not misused.

Marian Spain, Interim Chief Executive of Natural England, a public body responsible for English conservation projects, said: “Natural England has long believed that conservation covenants could be useful for land owners and secure long term environment gains for nature. It is pleasing to hear that a number of landowners and farmers are already interested and want to hear more about the Government’s proposals.”

DEFRA’s proposed nature covenants would take a number of forms including:

  • Preserving land which is used for altruistic purposes, for example private land which the public are permitted to access;
  • Securing historic and heritage sites;
  • Allowing conservation bodies to acquire or dispose of land as an alternative to a formal purchase; and
  • Improving local biodiversity, both by protecting already biodiverse plots of land from destructive development and by actively boosting natural habitats.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Director of Conservation Martin Harper said: “To restore nature in a generation, we need to think and act differently. Conservation covenants are a good example of a new approach which could drive transformational change for nature. By making these covenants a statutory scheme, with clear criteria and oversight, it would help speed up transactions between developers, landowners and conservation bodies, to the environmental and financial benefits of all.”


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