Expertise

The agriculture sector at Clarke Willmott LLP has a national reputation in Agriculture and Rural Affairs and is recognised by Chambers & Partners with a top tier ranking.

It is its breadth of expertise which enables our team to provide the best legal services to our agricultural and rural property clients. Lawyers within our team specialise in subjects ranging from agricultural property to employment, tenancies to matrimonial law, health and safety to environmental issues.

Whether for farmers, large estates, institutional landowners, tenants, companies, trusts, charities, banks or for national institutions such as the Church Commissioners, Clarke Willmott can provide up to date expert advice.

We are the NFU panel firm for the counties of Somerset, Dorset, Gloucester and Wiltshire.  We are also the solicitors for the Countryside Alliance

Our lawyers have a full complement of skills and expertise in the agriculture industry and also bring a practical and down to earth understanding of the industry due to the fact many of them come from farming families.

Contractual Disputes

Clarke Willmott has a sector group with a national reputation specialising in the affairs of farmers and Landowners. We also have a team dedicated to professional negligence work in an agricultural and rural context.

The team acts for farming business of all sizes and sorts and for both private estates and institutional land owners in disputes arising from all aspects of their businesses, financial affairs and estate management.

Recent years have seen a continually growing client base among businesses operating in the broader “Agri-business” sector.

Contractual disputes in this area require a specialist knowledge of the sector. Examples of contractual disputes which our group has handled include:

  • Livestock and semen transactions
  • Fertilizer and silage
  • Renewable energy
  • Grain, seed and crop contracts
  • Advance purchase contract disputes
  • Agricultural plant and machinery
  • Agricultural finance agreements
  • Milk quota

The team is supported by a non-contentious group which is nationally regarded as a leader in the agricultural sector for transactional and management work.

Quotas & Subsidies

Agricultural support payments and agricultural quotas are of critical importance to almost all agricultural businesses. Their availability can sometimes determine the viability of the whole or a particular section of the business. We have a dedicated team of lawyers who specialise in the Single Payment Scheme, Entry Level and Higher Level, milk quotas In addition, all other members of the team have a good working knowledge of these issues, so can highlight quota and subsidy issues when they arise and call in the relevant expert help.

Our services include:

  • Advising on the working of the EU Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS)[IACS hwas abolished in 2005 when SPS came in], the Single Payment Scheme, Environmental Stewardship (ELS, HLS,OELS and UELS), milk quotas, rural development grants and all other agricultural quotas, subsidies and grants
  • Selling, transferring and leasing quotas
  • Protecting quotas and subsidies when farms are sold, let out or when businesses are reorganised
  • Resolving disputes relating quotas and subsidies
  • Dealing with Judicial Review proceedings brought against government departments, agencies and bodies to challenge their decisions on quotas and subsidies

With our specialist expertise our team have been appointed to advise and represent farm businesses, land agents, private and institutional landowners and national organisations such as the NFU, The Crown Estate, the National Trust, the Tenant Farmer’s Association and the Soil Association on quota and subsidy issues.

Banking & Insolvency

Clarke Willmott LLP’s Agriculture team has a long history of working alongside the banks and other financial institutions, which lend to the agriculture industry.

We advise banks in the taking of security and with our specialist expertise in agricultural quotas and subsidies, we are able to handle and draft novel forms of security over assets, such as entitlements under the single payment scheme, whenever new opportunities arise. We also advise on the enforcement of security, including receiverships. Specifically, we act for RBS undertaking formal security reviews and advising on how to strengthen and enforce security.

We act for farming businesses in granting security to lenders over their farming assets, whether in the context of a farm purchase, business reorganisation or re-mortgaging. Assets which can be used as security include land, live and dead stock, quotas, entitlements and subsidy payments.

If farming businesses get into difficulties, we have extensive experience of advising on appropriate strategy, whether that is to achieve refinancing, restructuring, turnaround or formal insolvency (whether personal or corporate). If problems are identified and addressed early, then a business will give itself the best possible chance of avoiding formal insolvency and/ or maximizing the potential for the underlying business to continue and to minimize any loss for creditors. It is our breadth of experience which enables us to be creative, when coming up with solutions, to give businesses the greatest chance of survival in the long term.

 We also have extensive experience advising our clients on the impact and consequences of insolvency elsewhere in the supply chain. We can assist you, whether as creditor or debtor of (or involved in some other way), with a distressed, underperforming or formally insolvent business. For example, we may assist with implementation of a turnaround strategy for a key customer, avoiding its formal insolvency and securing a long term and profitable relationship for you going forwards.

Employment

Employing staff within the agricultural industry is a complex business. Not only do employers have to comply with all employment related legislation emanating from the EU, but there is another raft of domestic rules, which apply specifically to agricultural workers. The effect of this double layer of legislation is that there are numerous pitfalls and penalties waiting to catch out the unaware.

In view of the particular complexities facing farming businesses, part of our employment team is dedicated to the agriculture industry. This ensures that we can give specialist employment advice, combined with an in depth understanding of the specific issues facing farming businesses.

Furthermore, where employment and property issues cross over (e.g. housing of agricultural workers), our employment lawyers are able to work seamlessly with agricultural property lawyers within our integrated agriculture team.

We offer a comprehensive employment service, providing advice to reduce the risk of claims arising and also dealing with contentious matters when they occur.  We can also offer ongoing and ‘hands on’ HR support through our HR consultancy unit.

Our services include advising on :

  • Tailoring employment policy and procedure within business handbooks
  • Contracts of employment
  • Housing of agricultural workers
  • Immigration and work permits
  • Termination of employment, including redundancy and unfair dismissal
  • Discrimination issues
  • Ill health and incapacity issues, stress and absenteeism
  • Compromise negotiations and agreements
  • Advocacy at the Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and higher courts

With the pressure of increased regulation and the rising cost to businesses in employing staff, we provide proactive commercial advice on how to avoid disputes and offer pragmatic solutions to help clients take the most cost effective decisions. If a compromise cannot be found, we have the skills required to represent clients in the Employment Tribunal, Employment Appeal Tribunal and higher courts if required.

Equine

We have a team of dedicated equine lawyers.  It is our breadth of expertise which enables our Equine team to provide the best legal services to our equestrian clients.  Lawyers within our team specialise in subjects ranging from equestrian property transactions, tenancies, equestrian contracts, personal injury, sale and purchase disputes, employment law advice, business advice, family and matrimonial disputes, health & safety, animal welfare and regulatory issues.

Our lawyers have a wide and varied experience of the equestrian industry over many years.  They are able not only to advise clients on the law, but have a sound practical knowledge of horses, riding and the equestrian industry.

Our Equine services include:

Property

  • Purchase and sale of equestrian property and land
  • Equestrian business tenancies
  • Landlord and tenant issues
  • Equine diversification projects
  • Grazing licences
  • Profit a prendres
  • Rights of way
  • Planning issues

 

Contracts

  • Livery agreements: DIY, part, full, working
  • Horse sale contracts
  • Horse purchase contracts
  • Loan agreements
  • Training agreements
  • Stud/nomination agreements
  • Syndicate agreements
  • Liability disclaimers
  • Groom employment contracts
  • General employment

 

Disputes

  • Horse sale and purchase
  • Loan
  • Livery
  • Syndicate
  • Property litigation
  • Insurance
  • Construction disputes for schools, stables and barns
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

 

Other

  • Personal injury – for rider and horse claims
  • Defending litigation
  • Family/matrimonial
  • Horse passport regulations
  • Import/ex port regulations
  • Transportation regulations
  • Partnership agreements
  • Tax issues
  • Horse welfare
  • Limitation liability

Organic Farming

Over the past 15 years organic farming has grown beyond expectation in the UK and even during the recent difficult trading conditions, the organic sector has for the most part held its own.

The system of registration governing organic farming is complicated and it is only too easy to fall foul of the many rules and regulations and jeopardize a very valuable certification. This is particularly important when a farming business is being restructured or it is selling or taking on extra land.

Within the agriculture team at Clarke Willmott LLP we have several lawyers, led by Rod Lloyd-Jones, who have detailed knowledge and experience of the organic registration system operating within the UK. They are able to provide expert advice on organic issues and very often work alongside other agricultural lawyers handling, for instance, a farm restructuring, ensuring that the organic registration issues are considered carefully, to protect the registration.

Health & Safety

Farming is a dangerous business with numerous opportunities for accidents. Farming businesses employing staff, receiving deliveries, engaging contractors or allowing any other person onto the farm must constantly consider the risks that are present and minimise the chances of an accident. There is legislation and guidance at both EU and UK level, which impose all manner of duties on the business and administrative bodies waiting to enforce those provisions when something goes wrong.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities are now beginning to target agriculture as a new area for ensuring compliance with health and safety legislation. Over the last couple of years we have seen a marked increase in prosecutions and requests for training on health and safety issues.

At Clarke Willmott LLP, we have a dedicated section of our agriculture team comprising lawyers who have the very latest expertise in health and safety law and who also have an extensive understanding of the agriculture industry, to appreciate the particular issues facing farming businesses. Area’s of specialism includes:

  • Pollution incidents and waste management
  • Health and safety
  • Animal welfare
  • Field sports
  • Environmental impacts
  • Road transport licensing
  • Road traffic offences
  • Sale and manufacture of food

Our services include:

  • Advising on the legality of current procedures
  • Providing audit and review programmes to ensure correct procedures in place
  • Providing advice and representation during investigations by HSE and local authorities
  • Representing clients during all stages of court proceedings
  • Attending inquests

Planning

Virtually every farm business has to consider planning issues at some point in time. Whether it is when considering opportunities for diversification, dealing with farm cottages or creating a new access, planning requirements have to be satisfied. With the complexities of the planning system, specialist advice at the outset is essential if the project is to be successful.

At Clarke Willmott LLP we recognise that farming businesses face particular planning issues and it is for this reason that we have a number of planning specialists, who not only work within our specialist planning unit, but also work within the agriculture team. Thus where planning issues cross over with property issues our planners are able to work seamlessly alongside the property lawyers within the integrated agriculture team.

We offer a comprehensive planning service, providing both advice on proposed developments and also dealing with enforcement action if it arises. We have solicitor advocates within our team, who are able to appear in person at inquiries or magistrate court hearings.

Our services include:

  • Agricultural diversification projects
  • Planning applications including Environmental Impact Assessment
  • Strategic planning advice
  • Planning appeals, including appearing as advocates at public inquiry
  • Development control
  • Drafting and negotiating Planning Obligations and other Infrastructure  Agreements
  • Agricultural occupancy conditions
  • Certificates of lawfulness
  • Enforcement advice
  • Compulsory purchase and blight
  • Judicial Review and Statutory Appeals
  • Town and Village Green/common land applications
  • Highways and Public Rights of Way
  • Conversions to dwellings
  • Nationally strategic infrastructure projects

Renewable Energy

Our nationally rated Renewable Energy Team has extensive experience in the renewable energy sector.  Our specialist advice spans all aspects of renewables work from inception of a project through to planning, acquisition, financing, construction, regulation and finally commissioning and subsequent operation of plants or facilities.

The team has been involved with projects spanning the electricity, gas, waste recycling, renewable energy and water sectors.  We work extensively with landowners and businesses on investing in, developing and financing renewables such as the structuring of transactions relating to wind farms, biomass plants and solar installations, including the negotiation of exclusivity agreements, options, leases and profit sharing arrangements.

The team’s experience of acting for both landowners and developers in relation to renewables projects means that we can anticipate developers’ concerns and negotiating position in order to agree transaction documentation quickly, effectively and efficiently.

Rural Property

Our rural property team, comprising 7 lawyers, has extensive experience of dealing with all aspects of agricultural property. The ownership, occupation, use and management of agricultural land are regulated in many different ways under English law. A transaction involving farm land will almost inevitably require specialist advice on issues as diverse as EU quotas and subsidies, agricultural tenancies, occupation of dwellings and farm buildings, planning, rights of way, environmental issues, employment, movement of animals to name but a few.

The rural property team works within the wider agricultural team thus ensuring that we have expert lawyers who can deal with every aspect of the law affecting rural property transactions.

Our services include:

  • Sales and purchases of estates, farms, land and country houses
  • Secured lending on agricultural property
  • Agricultural tenancies – AHA 1986 tenancies and FBTs
  • Residential tenancies for farm cottages
  • EU milk quotas, Single Payment Scheme, Environmental Stewardship and other support payments and quotas
  • Farm business reorganisation and restructuring
  • Rights of way
  • Development clawback arrangements, options and pre-emptions
  • Restrictive covenants
  • Partnerships, share farming and contracting arrangements

In today’s rapidly changing market we appreciate that property transactions very often need to be completed and advice is required within very tight timescales. With our extensive and highly specialised rural property team we are well able to respond to this challenge, ensuring that we achieve the very best deal for our clients.

Tax, Wills, Trusts & Probate

We specialise in advising farmers, landowners and other rural businessmen about inheritance tax and capital gains tax mitigation. We act for a spectrum of private clients, trustees, estates and charities.

We advise on and (in conjunction with colleagues in our property and corporate departments) implement tax efficient ownership and occupation structures for agricultural and other business assets.

As part of succession strategies for the transmission of business assets and family wealth we advise on and prepare wills and trust structures.

More specifically our services also include liaising with the Inland Revenue regarding the availability of agricultural and business property reliefs from inheritance tax; advising on and preparing deeds varying the taxation treatment of Wills and lasting powers of attorney.

Agri-business

This area is headed up by Stuart Thorne, who is assisted by a team of agri-business specialists.  The team has extensive experience of providing advice and guidance on corporate and commercial issues to our farming and food industry clients.

Our core services include:

  • Establishing, reviewing and advising on appropriate business structures
  • Shareholder, member or partner arrangements
  • Acting for buyers or sellers on business and company sales and acquisitions
  • Group reorganisations
  • Commercial agreements, including marketing, distribution, agency, supply agreements and bespoke terms of trading
  • Brand protection and promotion, trade mark and other intellectual property advice
  • Competition law

Good business practice and the ongoing challenges in all sectors of the food industry mean farmers and food processors should regularly monitor their businesses to maximise opportunities and to protect and increase market share.  We have seen a growing demand for innovative business and contractual arrangements and there is an increasing emphasis on collaboration across the spectrum of the food chain, from farmers to processors, distributors and retailers.

At Clarke Willmott LLP, our approach is to find practical ways of facilitating collaboration in its many forms including joint ventures, co-operatives, service companies, collaborative purchasing arrangements, farm restructuring, partnerships, fixed cost sharing, machinery and asset sharing and know how pooling.

We really enjoy working closely with our clients to find innovative and cost effective solutions that work in the real world.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare law is a potential minefield for all those involved in the livestock industry. The legal framework that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and related regulations has created is extremely complicated. It is difficult to know in advance exactly what the requirements on livestock keepers are, and, when things go wrong, the penalties can be devastating.

The team has a wealth of experience of defending farmers, hauliers, abattoir owners and those involved in field sports, accused of the full spectrum of welfare compliance breaches. As NFU legal panel members we advise numerous NFU members on welfare issues. We also represent the Countryside Alliance, Country Land and Business Association and Game Conservation and Wildlife Trust Members on such matters.

Tim Hayden has been involved in defending the majority of prosecutions brought under the Hunting Act 2006 against members of registered hunts.

Food

Our team of lawyers specialising in food standards provides high level advice to the food industry. Our expertise includes an in-depth understanding of all aspects of food regulation from production and labelling requirements through to wholesale and retail. We provide advice to multi-national food businesses and small family concerns.

We have noticed an increase in the activity of the Food Standards Agency and local authorities and have a considerable current caseload involving investigations and prosecutions undertaken by these agencies.

• Food Law

• Food labelling

• Food Business Operators’ responsibilities

• Food hygiene and all aspects of food regulation

• HACCP

• Food Standards Agency and local authority prosecutions

• Meat industry specialists

Transport

Every single farming business is affected by transport issues. Whether it relates to the haulage of produce, operator’s licences, the safe movement of employees, transportation of animals or simply moving machinery, there is a whole raft of legislation, with which farm businesses must comply.

We have a team of lawyers at Clarke Willmott LLP led by Tim Hayden, who works within the wider agriculture team to advise and represent any farming clients who face transport issues. With the experience of Tim Hayden, who is a Transport Commissioner for England and Wales, awarded higher rights of audience, he can offer expert advice on all motoring and transport matters and are able personally to defend clients in all proceedings.

Our services include:

  • Operator’s licences – from first applications to full Traffic Commissioner hearings
  • VOSA investigations and prosecutions
  • Transportation of animals and all associated Animal Welfare Act and animal transportation regulation investigations and proceedings
  • All road traffic matters from speeding and unsafe loads to causing death by dangerous driving

Divorce & Family

Clarke Willmott LLP’s family team are acclaimed as leaders in the field of family law in Chambers and Partners Guide to the UK Legal Profession, with four team members identified as leading individuals

Daniel Eames heads up the part of the family team which specialises in advising members of the agricultural community on the financial impact of separation and divorce (whether involving married or unmarried couples).  Our cases include the leading farming divorce case of White v White, which was decided by the House of Lords.

When dealing with separation and divorce within a farming family a proper understanding of the law and practical impact of these issues is absolutely essential. As part of the firm’s agriculture team, we are able to offer an integrated service, which allows us to call on agricultural specialists when advising on separation and divorce.

We also appreciate that the preservation of landed estates and farms is an issue of utmost importance to landowners and their families.  One of the most common causes for the break up of an estate or farm is a divorce in the family. There are ways of protecting against, or limiting the effect of such an event. Recent cases have highlighted the possibility of obtaining protection by the use of pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements. We can advise farming families on these options, which may give the security the family desires.  We also regularly deal with:

  • Cohabitation agreements for unmarried couples
  • Acting for other partners where divorce proceedings involve partnership assets
  • Collaborative law
  • Mediation

Environment

Environmental issues are fundamental to the future of farming in the UK. Whether it is the future of EU subsidies, Nitrate Vunerable Zones, anaerobic digesters, water supply, flooding, drought, pollution or the many other environmental factors, farmers will constantly have to adjust the way they run their businesses to comply with new regulations and changing policies.

Within the agriculture team we have a number of lawyers who specialise in agri-environment issues and who also work alongside the Firm’s environmental and renewables teams.

The advisory side of the team is led by Neil Baker who deals with matters such as environmental licences and permits, waste and contaminated land.

For agri-environment disputes, cases are handled by a team led by Tim Hayden. For further details see the Agricultural Disputes section of this website.

When regulatory disputes arise involving prosecutions by the Environment Agency or other statutory authorities, cases are dealt with by a team lead by Tim Hayden. Tim is an acknowledged expert in the field of environmental law having spent many years defending clients involved in the entire spectrum of environmental prosecutions. Tim has gained higher rights of audience, so that in addition to representing clients in the magistrate’s court and other hearings, he is able personally to defend prosecutions by regulatory bodies in the Crown Court.

  • Agricultural diversification projects
  • Planning applications including environmental impact assessment and major infrastructure projects
  • Planning appeals and public inquiries
  • Drafting and negotiating planning obligations and other infrastructure agreements
  • Agricultural occupancy conditions and ties
  • Certificates of lawfulness
  • Enforcement advice and appeals
  • Compulsory purchase and blight
  • Judicial review and statutory appeals
  • Strategic development land advice/promotion
  • Town and village green/common land applications
  • Highways and public rights of way
  • Environmental permitting, tree preservation orders etc