In the latest of FWi / ADAS’s frequently asked questions regarding Environmental Stewardship schemes, ADAS’s David Middleditch, examines the differences soil protection reviews and soil management plans.

If you have any questions on this or any other Environmental Stewardship matter ADAS experts are on hand to answer them in our dedicated forum on stewardship.

Q: I have completed a Soil Protection Review as part of SPS Cross Compliance. Does this count as my Soil Management Plan under ELS?

Answer: No. The soil protection review and soil management plan are two separate documents for separate schemes.

It is obligatory to complete a soil protection review as part of cross compliance, whereas it is your choice to carry out a soil management plan as an option (EM1) on the menu of options in Entry Level Stewardship (ELS).

The soil management plan option is worth 3 points per hectare, and applies to all improved land (unimproved land cannot be included).

A soil management plan should set out, field by field, how you plan to manage the land to reduce the risk of soil erosion and maintain good soil structure.

If you choose this and/or any of the other three management plan options (nutrients, manure and crop protection) in ELS, you must prepare your plan(s) within the first year of your agreement.

As part of your soil management plan you are required to complete a coloured map indicating the varying levels of risk of soil erosion (from water and wind). Features such as roads and watercourses should be highlighted.

In order to help protect your soil you can combine your soil management plan with ELS options that are designed to help control soil erosion, such as buffer strips or beetle banks. For details see page 70 of the ELS handbook. 

A key part of the soil management plan is to assess each field covered by the plan once a year. Any issues, along with any action taken, should be recorded.

The soil management plan is intended as a working document, so should be kept handy to refer back to and regularly update. When you are reviewing and updating your plan, don’t settle for the default option of saying that there were no soil erosion issues so no management was needed. Examples of what you could consider include:
• Take the opportunity to think about what might happen if there was a heavy downpour or high wind at different stages of establishing the crops in the rotation, or reseeding grassland.
• Look particularly where soil may be carried by run off into ditches or onto roads – which will then run into rivers and streams.
• Consider ways to avoid bare ground – even a small amount of trash on the surface will ‘cushion’ the impact of rain and reduce the risk of soil erosion.
• Consider ways to maintain and improve soil structure so that rain filters down through the soil profile rather than running off over the surface – earthworm activity is particularly effective for improving infiltration.
• Tramlines are a vulnerable point. Direct them, where possible across a slope, and consider subsoiling them post-harvest if the stubble is to remain for any length of time.

For more detail on the above and other management actions to protect soils, refer to the Defra guidance booklet.

It is also available in print and can be requested by post from Natural England Customer Services. Page 101 of the ELS handbook contains a list of guidance publications.

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Look back at other frequently asked questions here.

David Middleditch is senior environment consultant with ADAS. With a background in agriculture and conservation advice, David manages the DEFRA conservation advice programme for ADAS.