Spring budget: taxation of ecosystem services
Among a number of uncertainties around the transition to more environmentally sustainable land management is the treatment of such land under inheritance tax legislation. It has not been clear how the government proposes to treat land formerly used to produce food that is switched to enhance the environment. In response, the government has launched a consultation, ending on 9 June 2023, to canvass views on how – and if – APR should apply to non-productive land. Currently, APR can only be applied to land and property that is owned and used for agricultural purposes for at least two years (seven years if tenanted).
Unsurprisingly, the question of whether or not APR applies to land not directly used for agricultural purposes is seen as a major barrier to the adoption of biodiverse habitat-friendly practices, including biodiversity offsetting. The second part of the consultation is concerned with the Rock Review recommendation that 100% APR can only be applied to tenancies of eight years or more. To express your views, visit Defra’s website.
Strict penalties to counter illegal tree felling
The Environment Act 2021 confers additional powers on the Forestry Commission to impose unlimited fines (up from £2,500 or twice the value of the trees felled) on those found to be felling trees without a licence. As well as fines, those falling foul of the legislation also run the risk of a prison sentence in the event of non-compliance with a Forestry Commission enforcement notice. Restocking Notices and Enforcement Notices will be listed on the Land Charges Register which may negatively impact the land’s value. Licences are issued for either five or ten years if issued in connection with an approved woodland management scheme. There are exemptions but these rely on tree location, the type of tree work, tree size, other permissions in place, and legal and statutory undertakings.
Gene-edited crops to be grown commercially
The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act 2023 became law in March. It allows the growing of gene-edited – or ‘precision-bred’ - plants and animals in England for food and for experimental purposes. It attracted considerable criticism during debates in both Houses, not least that it gives the Secretary of State powers to create statutory instruments which will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Unlike genetic modification, precision breeding allows for targeted genetic changes which supporters argue is simply a more scientific and quicker method of improving or enhancing particular characteristics usually only achieved through traditional breeding techniques. The government heralded this Act as another tool in the food security box, enabling the breeding of more disease-resistant crops and animals. Opponents point to the more relaxed regulatory regime under which gene-editing will take place, compared with the more rigorous approach of the EU. Under the Act, gene-edited food will not have to be labelled as such, posing an issue for devolved UK nations.
Anti-poaching law secures first prosecution
In the first prosecution under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, two men were fined and received a three-year ban from keeping dogs following their arrest on an Essex farm in February 2023 for daytime trespass in pursuit of game. In the wake of a worrying increase in incidents of hare coursing and poaching across the country, news that the legislation is already having an effect will be welcomed by farmers and rural communities.
To promote understanding of nature markets, whereby farmers and landowners can sell units to businesses either wanting (or having) to invest in nature, the government published ‘Nature markets: A framework for scaling up private investment in nature recovery and sustainable farming’ in March. There are already existing nature markets: voluntary systems such as the UK Woodland Carbon Code and the UK Peatland Code; and those stemming from mandatory (or compliance) requirements such as biodiversity net gain [link to biodiversity article] and nutrient credits (designed to mitigate developments in sensitive catchments). To encourage engagement, the report notes that land managers ‘may sell units for multiple different nature markets (for example biodiversity and carbon) from the same project or piece of land’ where the rules allow. Our planning team can advise clients on how to engage with nature markets and provide an alternative income stream.
PDRs for campsites and solar panels
Another recent government consultation sought views on extending permitted development rights (PDRs) in a number of scenarios. The two that are of immediate interest to farmers and landowners are the creation of temporary, recreational campsites for up to 60 days a year (to include certain moveable structures such as toilet and washing facilities); and the siting of solar panels on domestic flat roofs. If PDRs are extended to allow temporary campsites, they would be subject to certain conditions, including protection of local amenities.
Rises to wage and statutory rates 2023/2024
From 1 April 2023:
- National Living Wage: £10.42 per hour (from £9.50) aged 23 and over
- National Minimum Wage rates:
- £10.18 per hour (from £9.18) for those aged 21 – 22
- £7.49 per hour (from £6.83) for those aged 18 – 20
- £5.28 per hour (from £4.81) for those aged 16 - 17 and apprentices aged 19 and under or in their first year.
Statutory benefit payments increased from 3 April 2023:
- Statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental, and parental bereavement pay will increase to £172.48 (from £156.66) per week (or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower). The gross weekly earnings threshold remains at £123.
- Maternity allowance increases to £172.48 (from £156.66) per week (or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower). The gross weekly earnings threshold remains at £30.
- Standard statutory sick pay rises to £109.40 (from £99.35). The gross weekly earnings threshold remains at £123.