Rules on Ploughing up Grassland


A combination of high grain prices and onerous CAP reform proposals mean many farmers are planning to plough up permanent pasture.  

Current CAP reform proposals will stipulate that farmers must retain the area of permanent pasture and other unimproved land at the level indicated on their 2014 SPS form – within a tolerance of 5%.

But a word of caution, some grassland is protected by Environmental Impact Assessment regulations, which require a full audit and official approval given before any changes can be made.

What is Permanent Pasture? 

Permanent pasture is land sown to grass for five years or more. This includes any re-seeds of short term leys if no break crop has been grown.

What do farmers need to do before ploughing up these areas?

Most grassland can be ploughed up without the need for official approval. But areas greater than 2ha that have not been cultivated for 15 years or more, or are defined as unimproved or semi-natural pasture, must seek approval from Natural England before ploughing or improving the land. This includes applying fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides, cultivating or sowing, draining or manually clearing vegetation.

If the ground comes under this legislation then you will need to make an application for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Screening Decision*, once submitted Natural England will generally send an officer to make an initial inspection to see whether or not an Environmental Impact Assessment is required. 

*NB. The more information than can be provided at this stage the more likely you are to avoid having to have a full EIA.

What are the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations?

They seek to ‘protect bio-diverse pasture like species rich hay meadows, marshland, scrub, moorland and heath’. But they also cover things like the bearing on landscape, erosion, flooding and flora and fauna.

However, permanent pasture less than 15 years old which is unimproved as a result of environmental schemes such as ELS/HLS does not fall within these regs, so can be cultivated or improved at the end of its stewardship term without consent.

What are the likely consequences of not adhering to these rules? 

Any one found to be breaking these rules essentially falls foul of their cross compliance requirements, and therefore risks payment penalties. They are also likely to be required to return the ground to its original state which potentially could be costly.  

 The above rules apply to England, Welsh farmers are subject to the same rules as the English, the only difference is the application process is slightly different. The link below will take you directly to the website for Wales




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