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https://defrafarming.blog.gov.uk/low-and-no-input-grassland-standard/

Low and no input grassland standard of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot

The guidance on this page is for SFI pilot participants only. Please visit GOV.UK for the official Sustainable Farming Incentive scheme guidance.

Find out about the standard for low and no input grassland, what land is eligible and how much you can get paid.

Applications for the pilot have now closed. The Sustainable Farming Incentive 2023 offer is due to launch from summer 2023. To find out more about the SFI 2023 offer, read the SFI Handbook for the SFI 2023 offer.

This information is for farmers piloting the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

How the standard works

There are 3 levels to the standard. Each level has a set of actions you must complete, where relevant, to get paid.

The levels build on one another - each one includes the actions from the previous levels.

If you’re already doing activities on your land that fulfil the actions in this standard, you can use these areas instead of creating new ones. This means you can maintain existing areas to complete actions that require you to ‘create’ or ‘establish’ something.

Anything you’re doing to complete an action only counts towards that action. It will not count towards the standard’s other actions, unless this guidance says otherwise.

When to complete actions

Because agreements will start from November 2021 at the earliest, it will be too late to complete some actions that must take place after harvest - for example, establishing a green cover by the end of September or mid-October.

Complete these actions within 12 months of your agreement start date. This means you can complete the post-harvest actions after harvest 2022.

Actions that need you to create a new habitat may not be practical during the winter months - for example, sowing a winter bird food mix. You should complete these actions within 12 months of your agreement start date.

If you're amending your agreement to add this standard, or to change the ambition level of this standard in an existing agreement, you'll need to complete all of the actions listed below within 12 months from when the amendment starts. For example, if you're adding this standard to an agreement with a 1 November 2021 start date for the second year of that agreement, the amendment would be effective from 1 November 2022 and the actions for this standard would need to be completed by 31 October 2023.

How much you’ll be paid

In January 2024, we reviewed the payment rates for the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot standards following our previous review in 2023.

Payment rates for the intermediate and advanced levels of the low and no input grassland standard were increased. There is no change to the introductory level. The increase will apply from the start of your agreement.

For your agreement to show the revised payment rates, you need to sign into the Rural Payments service to ‘Generate’ and ‘Download’ an updated version of your agreement. Doing this will update your agreement document.

The levels and payments for this standard are set out in the table. These payment rates are annual.
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Level Payment per hectare Previous payment rate
Introductory £22 £22
Intermediate £197 £138
Advanced £215 £146

You’ll be paid for all the land that’s eligible for this standard that you’ve entered in your agreement. You’ll have to complete the actions on all that land.

You can also apply for funding for capital items.

What land is eligible

To qualify as low or no input grassland, the sward composition across a land parcel should include at least 2 of the following:

  • less than 30% cover of rye-grasses and white clover
  • 9 or more species per m2, including grasses
  • 10% or more cover of wildflowers and sedges, excluding white clover, creeping buttercup, docks, thistles and ragwort

Meeting these eligibility criteria is likely to mean it:

  • has not been reseeded for at least 15 years
  • receives no or low amounts of fertiliser, which may be mainly as animal manures and slurries - more improved fields may receive up to 100kg per hectare, as mainly compound fertiliser.
  • has no or only localised herbicide application to treat weeds
  • has unmaintained field drains or infrequently maintained field drains (hay meadows may be more actively drained)
  • takes any conserved forage as hay or haylage once a year

Low and no input grassland may meet the definition of one or more of the grassland priority habitats. You can check if your land is identified as a grassland priority on the MAGIC website

Grassland which is identified as improved grassland can be entered in the low and no input grassland standard if the actions can be followed and it meets one of the following criteria:

  • helps to sustainably manage or buffer Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and priority habitats
  • protects historical or archaeological features
  • targets ground-nesting wading birds, when in-field scrub is less than 1%
  • is on parcels next to a permanent watercourse

Read how to assess the number of plant species per square metre of land.

Ineligible land

Do not use this standard for peat soil areas, greater than 20% soil organic matter to a depth of 40cm or more.

Changes to the land because you’re completing actions

The land must be eligible at the start date of your agreement.

Changes to the land’s use, composition or cover that happen because you’re completing the actions in this standard do not affect eligibility, and you’ll continue to be paid under this standard, at your chosen ambition level.

Calculating areas for actions where there are hedgerows or water bodies

Some actions need work on a certain percentage of the land entered into the standard. You’ll need to calculate the area that fulfils the action.

This area cannot overlap with buffer strips that you’re creating or maintaining for the hedgerow standard or the water body buffering standard.

Measure the area from the edge of the buffer strip.

The area can include the 2 metre or 1 metre cross compliance buffers required under GAEC 1, and the 2 metre green cover requirement under GAEC 7a, where relevant.

Sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs)

If your application includes SSSI land, you will need consent from Natural England.

Make your request for consent when you get your agreement offer. Send a copy of the offer along with a notice form to:

ProtectedSites@naturalengland.org.uk

Your agreement cannot start without SSSI consent.

For more information read the guidance sites of special scientific interest: managing your land.

If your land is conditionally exempt from Inheritance Tax

Check that the undertakings for your heritage property do not conflict with the introductory level actions in this standard.

If you are a tenant, ask your landlord about whether there are any conflicts.

You cannot use this standard if the undertakings for your heritage property are substantially the same as all of these actions:

  • managing grazed pasture with limited nutrient inputs
  • managing weeds and invasive or competitive species
  • managing supplementary feeding
  • managing fields for grazing

If the undertakings require you to maintain or achieve ‘Favourable Condition’, you cannot choose the advanced level to maintain, achieve or work towards ‘Favourable Condition’ on SSSI land.

Introductory level: actions

At the introductory level you must do the following actions to be paid £22 per hectare.

Read the section of this guide about evidence you should keep.

1. Manage grazed pasture with limited nutrient inputs

This action will maintain and increase botanical diversity.

Apply no more than 50kg per hectare nitrogen, from either inorganic fertiliser or manures, or a combination of both. If your current rate is less than this, do not increase your application.

Supporting evidence

You may want to keep supporting evidence for this action. This is in case actions you have undertaken and aims or outcomes achieved are not clear from remote monitoring or at site visits.

Information on managing grazed pasture

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to maintain permanent grassland with very low inputs.

2. Manage weeds and invasive or competitive species

Manage weeds and invasive or competitive species by hand pulling, cutting, grazing, weed wiping or spot treatment.

Information on managing weeds and invasive or competitive species

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

3. Create buffers around in-field trees

Where you have in-field trees:

  • maintain a buffer to at least 2 metres beyond the edge of the canopy to protect the roots
  • leave mature ivy and low-hanging and fallen, dead or dying branches on the tree or beneath the canopy to provide habitats for wildlife
  • do not feed livestock within the buffer area

You can apply for funding for capital items to protect trees from damage by livestock.

You cannot claim payments for creating buffers around in-field trees or protecting trees from livestock if the land is conditionally exempt from Inheritance Tax.

Information on buffers around in-field trees

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to manage historic features in grassland:

4. Leave margins uncut

This action will provide food and habitat for wildlife.

Where you have fields cut for forage, leave at least one third of margins uncut to produce flowers and seed. Aim to distribute the uncut margins around cutting fields (minimum width 2 metres), rather than locating them all in one area.

Information on leaving margins uncut

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to make field-dried hay or haylage.

5. Manage supplementary feeding

Supplementary feeding must not cause poaching or overgrazing, and where possible should be restricted to home-produced forage.

Do not supplementary feed:

  • on any SSSI except in exceptional circumstances, such as adverse weather conditions like cold or drought
  • on historic features
  • on areas of species-rich grassland
  • within 10 metres of watercourses or wet features
  • within the buffer zone of in-field trees
  • during the breeding season where ground nesting birds are present, or are a feature of an SSSI

Information on managing supplementary feeding

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

6. Manage ditches

Where you have ditches:

  • manage your ditches between 1 September and 1 April to minimise disturbance to wildlife
  • cut no more than half the length of bank vegetation in any year
  • carry out in-channel management on a rotation of at least 3 years

You can do in-channel management more regularly if you’ve been told to by a flood management authority .

Supporting evidence

You may want to keep supporting evidence for this action. This is in case actions you have undertaken and aims or outcomes achieved are not clear from remote monitoring or at site visits.

Information on managing ditches

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to create and manage ditches for wildlife.

7. Manage fields for grazing

This action will allow wild or sown flowers to flower and produce seed, increase above and below ground biodiversity, and help reduce run-off.

Do one of the following:

  • graze to keep an average sward height of at least 5cm over at least 75% of the area of grazed pasture during the growing season
  • graze rotationally, with rest periods
  • where this standard is used on SSSIs and priority habitats, graze or cut to maintain the appropriate sward height for the grassland type

Information on managing fields for grazing

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

Intermediate level: actions

At the intermediate level you must do the actions at the introductory level, plus the following actions, to be paid £114 per hectare (previous payment rate £89 per hectare).

Read the section of this guide about evidence you should keep.

1. Manage nutrient inputs on your grassland

This action will further increase botanical diversity.

This action extends the introductory action to further limit nutrient inputs.

On grazed pasture, manage without nutrient inputs.

On fields which are cut for forage, manage your land with farmyard manure only at sufficient quantities to replace the nutrients lost in the crop in the years when cut, or less frequently.

Do not apply more than 12 tonnes per hectare of farmyard manure (FYM). If your current rate is already less than this, do not increase your application rate.

Information on managing nutrient inputs

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

2. Manage fields for grazing

This action will allow wild or sown flowers to flower and produce seed, increase above and below ground biodiversity, and help reduce run-off.

This action extends the introductory action to increase the average sward height.

Do one of the following:

  • graze to keep an average sward height of at least 8 to 12cm over at least 50% of the area of grazed pasture during the growing season
  • graze rotationally, with rest periods
  • where this standard is used on SSSIs and priority habitats, graze or cut to maintain the appropriate sward height for the grassland type

Supporting evidence

You may want to keep supporting evidence for this action. This is in case actions you have undertaken and aims or outcomes achieved are not clear from remote monitoring or at site visits.

Information on managing fields for grazing

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

3. Manage rushes in grassland

This action will improve habitat for breeding waders.

Where they are present, manage non-jointed rushes (soft and hard rush), to limit cover to 30%, or current levels if less than this, in scattered patches.

Information on managing rushes

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to manage rushes in grassland.

4. Maintain areas of tall vegetation, scrub and wet features

This action will provide nesting, shelter and food for wildlife.

Keep existing areas of tall vegetation and scrub, and wet features such as ponds.

Where these features occupy less than 10% of the grassland area, allow additional areas to develop without cutting or grazing, or create more wet features.

Allow individual trees to become established through the cover of scrub where they regenerate naturally.

To meet local objectives, scrub cover should be lower on:

  • historic sites
  • areas managed for breeding waders and on priority habitat
  • species-rich grassland

Information on maintaining areas of tall vegetation, scrub and wet features

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

5. Manage 50% of conserved forage area as hay meadow

This action will maintain and increase botanical diversity.

Where you have conserved forage area, manage at least 50% of it as hay meadow. If a greater proportion is required to meet SSSI requirements, manage this greater proportion instead.

Close fields by mid-May for at least 6 weeks and make field-dried hay or haylage with aftermath grazing (with cattle where available).

Information on managing conserved forage as hay meadow

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to make field-dried hay or haylage.

Advanced level: actions

At the advanced level you must do the actions for all levels, introductory and intermediate levels, plus the following actions, to be paid £120 per hectare (previous payment rate £110 per hectare).

Read the section of this guide about evidence you should keep.

1. Manage 75% of conserved forage area as hay meadow

This action will maintain and increase botanical diversity.

This action extends the intermediate action to a larger percentage of your land.

Where you have conserved forage area, manage at least 75% of it as hay meadow. If a greater proportion is required to meet SSSI requirements, manage this greater proportion instead.

Close fields by mid-May for at least 6 weeks and make field-dried hay or haylage with aftermath grazing (with cattle where available).

Information on managing conserved forage as hay meadow

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to make field-dried hay or haylage.

2. Provide habitat for wading birds

This action will increase botanical diversity, provide habitat for waders and wildfowl and contribute to natural flood management.

Where appropriate, you must do one of the following:

  • block drains where there is potential to create or extend small wetland areas within grazing land - this does not apply to floodplain and damp upland hay meadows
  • manage floodplain grassland to keep water on the fields over winter, in pools, scrapes and other low areas - allow these to dry out gradually during the spring

You’ll get an additional £127 per hectare for doing one of these. This payment is for the total eligible area of the land parcel entered into this standard, not just the area used to provide habitat for wading birds.

If you’ve already created or extended small wetland areas by blocking drains, you can use these to fulfil this action. However, if there are additional areas where there’s the potential to create or extend small wetland areas within grazing land by blocking drains, you should also do this to complete the action.

You do not need to do this action if the land you’re entering into the standard includes neither:

  • grazing land where there is potential to create or extend small wetland areas, or you’ve already created or extended those areas by blocking drains
  • floodplain grassland

On SSSI land, you must actively manage to maintain, achieve or work towards ‘Favourable Condition’. Read the guidance on sites of special scientific interest: managing your land.

Information for providing habitat for wading birds

How you complete this action is up to you, but you can read information on how to:

Further advice and information

For further advice on doing the actions in this standard read the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot: summary of advice.

Read more about how this standard will meet the environmental outcomes and benefits of the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot.

Funding for capital items

As a Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot participant, you can apply for funding to support your standards.

Capital items which may support the aims of this standard:

You can apply for these through Countryside Stewardship (CS) capital grants in the Rural Payments service. This is subject to the items being used as described in the ‘Where to use this item’ section for each item. To check where items can be used and the records you must supply you can use the CS Grants Finder.

If you’re successful you’ll be offered a separate Countryside Stewardship capital grant agreement. To be eligible for this funding you must not start capital items work (or order materials) until your Countryside Stewardship capital grants agreement starts.

You may also be able to get funding from other programmes for precision fertilizer application equipment.

Monitoring and support

The Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot will use a new model for monitoring agreements. It will focus on outcomes and improvement instead of penalties.

Once your agreement has started, we’ll use various techniques to see whether you’re achieving the aims of the standards.

Read more about:

Additional standards you can apply to this land

Land parcels you use for this standard can also be used for the:

If you apply more than one standard to the same land, the actions for each must be delivered separately.

Further information

See all the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot guidance.