Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations in Welsh Horticulture

Did you know, in Wales, if you want to plant an orchard, establish a vineyard, or set up a market garden, you might need permission from the Welsh Government?  Really? Yes, really.  Even if the land is yours; even if it’s been in your family for donkey’s years: you’re not free to just do as you may wish with it.

There are lots of reasons why this is the case, this post focuses on the snappily titled “Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (Wales) Regulations 2007”.  Environmental Impact Assessments are generally referred to as EIAs.  And in fact, these Regulations (in the context of horticulture in Wales) actually rarely deal with actual Impact Assessments.  They deal more with assessing whether or not an Assessment is required.

Whether you agree with the Regulations or are outraged by them and see them as an infringement on your liberties, they are something you need to know about if you’re planning to start-up in horticulture. 

The Welsh Government provides quite comprehensive advice and guidance on the regulations and their interpretation at http://wales.gov.uk/topics/environmentcountryside/consmanagement/conservationbiodiversity/eiahome/eiadocs/?lang=en.  You can also speak to Welsh Government officers who deal specifically with EIA and are generally very helpful (yes, honestly, they are).

In brief, the rules say that if you are “intensifying” production on an area of “semi-natural” or “uncultivated” land, you need to ask permission first.  However, the definitions of these land types are specifically rather vague.

That may be it: you might ask, the Welsh Government might say, ‘no problem’.  Or, they might want to look a bit harder at your land and your plans, and then say it’s ok for you to go ahead.  Or, they might say that you need to carry out a “scoping” exercise to identify the likely impacts of your activities and produce an Environmental Impact Assessment of them.

Tiresome as complying with these requirements may seem, it is in your best interests to do so.  Failure to comply could be costly in the long run.

You may wonder how the Welsh Government would ever know what you’re up to, especially if you’re halfway up a hill in the middle of nowhere.  But the Welsh Government has extensive and detailed aerial and satellite images and data for the whole of the country.  And an army of interested parties is always ready to report any potential breaches to the officials.  The chances are that at some point in time, your new orchard, vineyard, field of potatoes or whatever, is going to come to the attention of a Government official.  The worst case scenario could mean that you have to rip up all your planting and reinstate the land to the condition it was to previously (insofar as that is possible…).  All at your own expense, and with no compensation.

So, the lesson of this rather dry story is be aware and beware.