Can you protect property, even after you die?
Under new proposals, land could be protected by current owners, who wish to preserve it for conservation purposes, and protect against future development. This would cover wildlife sites, and ancient woodland.
Ordinarily covenants can only be enforced by those benefiting from the covenant, and in many cases that person can be hard to trace.
Take for example, the farmer who has bought land with an agricultural tie. Fifty years later, a subsequent owner wishes to sell a field to a developer. If the developer builds houses on the field they could be in breach of that covenant. But the only person who could enforce that covenant is the farmer of fifty years ago. They are no longer alive, and their successors in title are not easily traced. The developers can make reasonable enquiries, but if the original owner or their successor in title cannot be found, they can take their chance, get some insurance, and develop the land regardless.
However, this proposed law could mean that landowners can protect their land from the developers, and ensure that it remains as conservation land beyond their ownership.
A covenant can be agreed between the landowner and a body dedicated to conservation such as the Wildlife Trusts or Natural England. This body can then enforce the covenant against any future owner. The conservation body would be named on the title deeds, and would therefore be more likely to be traceable, and have a vested interest in ensuring the conditions in the covenant are adhered to.
The government’s advisory body on protecting wildlife is backing this recommendation by the Law Society. But how will conservation bodies be paid for providing this service? It will take up time and resource to monitor the pieces of land in question, and potentially incur legal costs to enforce a covenant against someone who breaches it or attempts to.