Conservation covenants

Status: This project is complete.

We have made recommendations for the introduction of a new statutory scheme of conservation covenants in England and Wales.

A conservation covenant is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and responsible body (charity, public body or local/central Government) to do or not do something on their land for a conservation purpose.  This might be, for example, an agreement to maintain woodland and allow public access to it, or to refrain from using certain pesticides on native vegetation.  These agreements are long lasting and can continue after the landowner has parted with the land, ensuring that its conservation value is protected for the public benefit.

Conservation covenants are used in many other jurisdictions, but do not exist in the law of England and Wales. Instead, landowners and responsible bodies are relying on complex and expensive legal workarounds, or the limited number of existing statutory covenants that enable certain covenants to be enforced by specified bodies (for example, the National Trust).

The project

We began work on this project at the beginning of 2012 and have investigated whether there is a case for introducing conservation covenants into the law of England and Wales and, if so, what elements might be needed in a new statutory scheme for conservation covenants.

The Consultation Paper was published in March 2013, with consultation formally closing in June 2013. We received a large number of responses, most of which were extremely detailed and gave the view of those representing large numbers of individuals and organisations. The Consultation Paper, together with other material related to the project, can also be found on this page.

Our Recommendations

The final Report was published on 24 June 2014. The Report sets out and explains our recommendations for reform, which would introduce a new statutory scheme of conservation covenants in England and Wales. In this scheme, a conservation covenant would:

  • be formed by the agreement of two parties: a landowner (a person with a freehold estate or leasehold estate of more than seven years), and a responsible body drawn from a limited class of organisations;
  • be able to contain both restrictive and positive obligations;
  • be capable of binding the landowner’s successors in title (that is, all subsequent owners) after he or she has disposed of the land; and
  • be made for the public good.

Our Report includes a draft Conservation Covenants Bill, which would introduce the conservation covenant scheme into the law of England and Wales. The Report, together with the draft Bill, Explanatory Notes and accompanying Impact Assessment, can be found on this page.

Government interim response

We have received a letter from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science, Lord de Mauley, dated 9 February 2015, which stands as Government's interim response to our report. The interim response welcomes the Commission's proposals as a contribution to the conservation debate, states that the proposals do not form part of their current legislative programme and confirms that Government will keep the proposals under review before providing a full response later in 2015.

In this video, Law Commissioner Professor Elizabeth Cooke, sets out our recommendations for establishing conservation covenants

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