Leaving our environment in a better state than we found it requires long-term investment and stability. But how can a current land owner ensure that future owners conserve the historical, environmental and architectural features of its land? The conservation covenant has been introduced to allow just that.
Part 7 of the Environment Act 2021 came in force from 30 September 2022 to pave the way for conservation covenant agreements. Since 29 November 2022, conservation covenants can be registered as a local land charge. But what are they? And what does this mean?
As the name suggests, conservation covenants are agreements relating to the conservation of certain features of land. It is a private, voluntary agreement between a landowner and a ‘responsible body’ to do, or not do, something on their land for a conservation purpose for the public good. They enable a landowner to guarantee long-term protection of the land and ensure the conservation of natural or heritage features. They are statutorily binding on successors in title.
Ordinarily, covenants would only bind successors in title to the land if they were created for the benefit of identified neighbouring land (i.e. the landowner needed to be retaining some land) and were restrictive in nature (for example, ‘not to build commercial buildings’). This clearly raised issues if a landowner wanted to dispose of its land but also impose binding obligations to maintain the environmental, architectural or historical features. Conservation covenants were introduced as a way to help overcome these issues.
The below will cover some of the key points to consider.
What is a ‘responsible body’?
A responsible body may be a local authority, another public body or a conservation charity.
The responsible body will ensure that the objectives of the conservation covenant agreement are secured and delivered and may be required to take action itself. Responsible bodies must lodge an annual return with the Secretary of State confirming:
- If they held any conservation covenants during the reporting period;
- The number of covenants they held;
- The area(s) of land to which they relate.
What is ‘the public good’?
The parties must intend the agreement to be for the public good. The conservation purpose may be archaeological, architectural, artistic, cultural, ecological or historical.
The obligations imposed may be positive, negative, or both. A positive obligation requires action, for example, to plant trees. Alternatively, a negative obligation restricts action, for example, not to carry out excavations.
For further information, please visit The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) guidance:
Getting and using a conservation covenant agreement – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.