Access To Land

Environmental rural lease

In 2006, the French Farm Bill created the environmental rural lease to promote environmentally friendly production practices. Further law and decrees, in 2007 and in 2014-5, developed and specified its scope. It is a classical agricultural lease, available to specific landowners or under specific circumstances, which includes a number of compulsory environmental clauses.

AIMS

1- Protect the tenant farmers, whose lease cannot be broken for using certain types of environmentally-friendly practices. In the past, it indeed happened that certain practices proned for organic farming brought the owner to end a lease.
2- Enable eligible landowners to include clauses prescribing certain types of environmentally practices.
If the farmer does not respect some of these clauses, the landowner can decide to put an end to the lease or not to renew it.

WHO CAN SIGN IT?

The environmental lease is a way to include consideration for the public interest (environmental protection) into contract law. It is therefore limited to specific owners or areas.
public authorities and environmental organisations (2006)
charitable trusts and solidarity-based companies were added in 2007
any land owner on areas legally defined as requiring specific protection - e.g. Natura 2000, river banks, national parks, water catchment areas, etc.
Any public or private owner may now insert environmental clauses aiming specifically at maintaining practices or infrastructures which are preserving “water, biodiversity, landscapes and the quality of produce, soils or air” or which are preventing “natural risks and erosion” (2014)
This latter addition for instance means that any landowner can know sign an environmental lease including a clause on organic agriculture, when the farm was already in organic farming. S/he cannot do it if the farm was not previously in organic farming, or if there is already a classical farm lease in force.

WHAT DOES IT COVER?

There is a limited list of 16 legally defined clauses that can be added. These have been complemented and specified in 2015 and now include:
- organic agriculture (2006) and breeding (2015);
- limitation or prohibition of fertilizers and phytosanitary products;
- soil preservation;
- prohibition of irrigation and drainage;
- no ploughing up of grassland;
- diversification of crop rotation;
- specific harvesting techniques;
- the creation, preservation and management of agroecological infrastructures such as hedges, slopes, terraces, ponds and groves
- agroforestry (2015)

Since its creation, this lease has only been little used (a recent study found about 350 such leases). This partly results from the limitation in the types of owners and areas eligible to sign such leases. Most of the existing leases have also been signed for nature conservation purposes only. Only few were signed with the joint aim of developing agricultural practices and protecting the environment.

Mobilisation from state and non-state actors is needed to promote the environmental lease with public and private owners and make it used more broadly. Land owners also need technical and legal support to better understand how to write and implement such leases. Finally, the list of clauses, and the way to monitor and enforce them, still need consolidation.

In parallel, the Ministry of Environment is now also considering to introduce robust forms of environmental easements.

Legal sources:
> Loi n° 2006-11 du 5 janvier 2006 d’orientation agricole
> Décret no 2007-326 du 8 mars 2007 relatif aux clauses visant au respect de pratiques culturales pouvant être incluses dans les baux ruraux
> Loi n° 2014-1170 du 13 octobre 2014 d’avenir pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et la forêt
> Décret n° 2015-591 du 1er juin 2015 relatif aux clauses visant au respect de pratiques environnementales pouvant être incluses dans les baux ruraux

Further Reading:
- CEREMA, Le bail rural à clauses environnementales et le paysage « agro-environnemental », study commissionned by the Ministry of Ecology, June 2015,

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