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Horizon blog: Environment Act 2020 – What does it mean for farmers?
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Horizon blog: Environment Act 2020 – What does it mean for farmers?

Despite the fact that the House of Lords seems to have a low profile, the new legislation Environment ActThis will likely have a greater impact than many of the decisions made at the negotiating table in Glasgow on levy payers.

The new Act, which was two years in the planning and a once in generation change to regulations that hold the UK government accountable over environmental issues, builds upon the EU-implemented regulations.

One of the most notable additions is the new Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), created to replace the EU Commission’s role in ensuring compliance of regulations set out in the legislation. It will issue guidance for all governments and can impose penalties against the Secretary of State and their departments.

The new Act requires DEFRA to set 15-year targets for air quality, biodiversity and water by 2022. These are the key areas of concern or opportunity for farmers:


  1. Abstraction licenses:The Environment Agency (EA), which will be able amend or revoke licenses from the 1 January 2028 without any liability or compensation, will be able to do so starting in 2028. The Government launched a Consultation (closes 22ndDecember 2021) regarding plans to introduce abstraction licensing under the Environmental Permitting Regime. The EA won’t be required to pay license holders compensation for revoking or enforcing modifications to underused licenses.
  1. New goals and targets The Government will make plans to reduce pollution from agriculture, waste water, abandoned metal mines, and to reduce water demand by the end the year.

Biodiversity Net Gain

  1. There are increasing demands for our services:The UK government has established new Biodiversity net Gain targets that will increase competition for land, increase biodiversity, and improve forestry. These targets aim to create new forests and linked wildlife corridors. They also increase (unlimited!) fines for illegal felling.
  2. New Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFI): The key driver for reaching the Biodiversity Net Gain targets in Agriculture will be the changes to BPS payments.
  3. Conservation covenant agreements The agreements between a landowner and a body (such as a charity or public body) to do or not do something on their land for a conservation purpose, will now need to be executed as deeds, rather than just ‘in writing signed’.  This will allow Net Gain and carbon sequestration opportunities to be given greater legal standing.
  4. Biodiversity reportsEach five-year period, local authorities will be required by law to produce reports describing the actions taken and the impact on Net Gain and local nature restoration networks.

 Air Quality

  1. New targetsThe Government is required by law to submit at least two air quality goals by October 2022. The first goal is to reduce ambient air PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) by 5% annually.  These particulates can be produced by ammonia from agriculture, even if they are not coming from an emission source.
  2. New dairy and beef permits:Under the Environmental Permitting Regulations, for intensive beef and dairy cows, ammonia permits will be available to the intensive poultry and pork sectors.

Waste & Waste Crime

  1. New single-use charges:The act, similar to the carrier bag fee, will allow for single-use plastics charges to encourage consumers to use more sustainable products. This could apply to all products, and could also include plastics from farms such as silage wrap or crop cover. These powers will encourage plastics with recycled content to be used or to be replaced with non-plastic options.
  2. Combat waste crimeMany farmers and land owners will welcome long-overdue actions that aim to make agencies and authorities more effective in fighting waste crime.
How can you, as an agricultural farmer, prepare for legal changes in the future?
  1. Examine historical abstraction licenses Consider giving them up voluntarily if they are no longer needed. It may be worthwhile fitting flow meters to determine your usage patterns to support any new licensing requirements.
  2. Check out the ConsultationYou can either directly respond to or provide input through any other person who collectively represents your interests at a national level. Your voice and opinions must be heard
  3. Register now AHDB’s Resilience ReviewBefore Christmas, understand how the changes to BPS payments or the new SFI scheme could impact your business. Also, identify funding opportunities for nature recovery activities. You can also get a free carbon audit.
  4. Keep solid records of your farm businessFor beef and dairy herds in preparation for new permit rules becoming law. The AHDB will keep you updated on the development of these regulations.

Do you have a question? Contact us [email protected] 

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