Got a query on environmental stewardship?

In a new monthly initiative from FWi, ADAS’s David Middleditch brings you some of the frequently asked questions and provides answers and solutions.

But FWi brings you more than that. You can interact by visiting the dedicated stewardship forum thread and also post any questions you have, or better still, if you’ve already got the answer, why not share it with other forum users?

You may want help yourself, or you may be able to be of help. 

This month, David looks at two burning issues: 

Question 1: 

Q. As part of my ELS agreement, I have done three management plans: Soil; nutrients; and crop protection. Where do I send them now?

A. Don’t send your plans anywhere! The management plans must be kept on the farm and are intended to be working documents for you to use rather than being kept in a file at Natural England.

You will need to keep them handy to refer to when you start to implement the work you have stated you will be doing during your five-year ELS agreement.

Make sure you record any work you do, including the date on which it was carried out. This will show a visiting Rural Payments Agency (RPA) inspector that your plans are ‘live’ and that work is in progress.

It’s a good idea to review your plans every few months, particularly in the first year or two of your agreement, so that more urgent work gets done. This will help to reduce the risk of non-compliance issues.

Note that you are required to update soil and nutrient management plans (EM1 and EM2) annually. Your review should show clear progress with the work you stated you will be doing, and should also include any new work you intend to do in the light of the previous year’s experience, and any changes on the farm, such as the introduction of different crops or taking on new land.

The other two plans; manure (EM3) and crop protection (EM4) must also be updated following the instructions given for the option concerned. Refer to the ELS Handbook for details on what you should update. For example, storage assessment must be updated in EM3 (manure) if slurry or dirty water production increases.

Finally, well done for completing your plans in the first year of your ELS agreement, as required in the rules of the scheme.

Visit the forum on stewardship for more 

Question 2

Q. For the overwintered stubble option, the ELS handbook states that I can’t use a pre-harvest dessicant or post-harvest herbicides. As I have a blackgrass problem in some of my fields I would like to apply for a derogation. How do I go about this?

A. Overwintered stubbles (EF6) are included in the scheme to provide an important winter food source for seed-eating birds, from spilt grain and the seeds and leaves of broad-leaved weeds. Also, weed growth increases ground cover, which helps improve soil stability through the winter – an important objective of ELS. 

This is why the use of pre- and post-harvest herbicides is not permitted. No derogations are available.

Land that has a history of problems with pernicious weeds, such as blackgrass, is probably not suitable for this option.

There are other ways that you can provide winter food for farmland birds and gain a good number of points towards the required 30 points/ha for ELS.

Consider instead EF2 (Wild bird seed mixture). This option, which attracts 450 points/ha, means sowing strips or blocks of a mixture of seed-rich plants such as kale and quinoa. Strips must be at least 6m wide, and each one mustn’t be more than 0.5ha, and no more than one strip or block per 20ha. You can move them to different locations in the same field to avoid the build-up of pests and diseases.

This option is also permitted on set-aside land, provided that you do not already have an obligation to sow green cover. See handbook for further details (ref. EF3).

Bird species that benefit from overwintered stubbles, and from the wild bird seed mixture described above, include tree sparrow, which has declined more than 80% in the past 25 years. But it’s not just birds that benefit; the plants and weeds that grow between them attract insects, such as carabid beetles and wolf spiders, which predate on crop pests.

Overwintered stubbles can follow a wide range of crops, including cereals, rape, linseed or field beans, but not maize or sugar beet.

Whilst you are not allowed to use pre or post-harvest herbicides, a light surface cultivation is allowed before the end of September. This will encourage weed germination, and also loosen any surface compaction or capping. Subsoiling of tramlines is also permitted, which will enable rainfall to infiltrate better, so reducing the risk of surface run-off.

The land must be left untouched throughout the winter until 14 February, after which you are required to establish a spring crop – it cannot be followed by set-aside.

This option is intended to form part of your rotation, so will be moved around the farm and integrated with your cropping plan. The hectarage must remain the same each year.

Visit the forum on stewardship for more

  • 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

ADAS logo

Natural England Logo

ADAS Farm Walks