Conservation Covenants launch today as part of the Environment Act
Covenants affecting land have been around for a long time. But today the government, as part of its 25-year plan to improve the environment, has introduced a new type of covenant in England - a conservation covenant - which are now in force under Part 7 of the Environment Act 2021. These covenants are intended to deliver lasting conservation and enhance the natural environment for future generations.
Having helped formulate the idea of conservation covenants during his time at Natural England, our chairman David Hill outlines the value they will bring to biodiversity restoration over the coming years.
He said: “For the first time ever, ‘conservation covenants’ will enable farmers, landowners and other landholders to put land into biodiversity restoration, securing the future of sites for many years to come."
“Although they are voluntary, they send a large-scale signal to private investors in natural capital that the land sector is mainstreaming the protection of areas for wildlife, once only the domain of the environmental non-governmental conservation bodies.”
In order to enter into a conservation covenant, a landowner will need to partner with a ‘responsible body’ which can include charities, governmental organisations or private companies.
Conservation covenants can vary in their approach - they could be a positive obligation for the landowner to do something (such as manage the land to secure and maintain a conservation outcome) or a restrictive obligation for the landowner to not do something (such as carry out drainage or ‘clear’ the land for unintended purposes that have not be permitted).
Like other types of property or land covenants, a conservation covenant will run with the property, meaning that even if the land changes hands, the restrictions (whether positive or restrictive) will remain in place for the new owner.
Sites brought forward for Biodiversity Net Gain, such as Environment Bank’s Habitat Banks, can be protected under conservation covenants and S106 agreements to give the necessary credibility that they will exist long into the future. This will become an industry standard, building reputation and providing certainty to investors that their investments in Biodiversity Net Gain and other natural capital schemes will make a real difference to nature protection in the UK.
David added: “Here at Environment Bank, we will be using Conservation Covenants alongside Section 106 agreements to ensure the long-term future of Habitat Banks, working alongside the farmers and landowners who are registering their land with Environment Bank at pace."
“This is a very positive outcome for the environment and to landowners who can be assured that their land will be protected for future generations to come.”
Alexa Culver, General Counsel at Environment Bank comments: “we are very pleased to see the introduction of straightforward and cost-effective ways for land holders to protect and enhance the environment. Until now, only clunky and expensive legal ‘work-arounds’ have existed to govern land management in the long term, and even then, those ‘work-arounds’ can be unreliable."
We are working with a cross-sector team of environmental and planning experts at Gowling WLG, Shoosmiths, Browne Jacobson, No 5 Chambers, 39 Essex Chambers and Defra to develop model conservation covenant clauses for biodiversity net gain, and we are looking forward to releasing these to the sector and the public domain over the coming weeks.