Your latest chance to quiz the experts and other FWi users on your environmental scheme queries.

In this month’s Q & A from ADAS’s David Middleditch, you can find out the dos and don’ts with environmental buffers strips.

By participating in the dedicated forum on stewardship you can post your queries for the experts and other FWi users to answer.

Q. How often can I travel over buffer strips?

A. You are not allowed to use buffer strips for regular access or turning. So, they can’t be used as a means of travelling around the farm, or for accessing fields for field work, or for operations such as grain carting. Nor can they be used as a ‘fallow headland’ for turning when doing fieldwork.

The reason for this is to allow a sward to develop that will provide new habitat for small mammals, invertebrates and birds. Also, if a thick tussocky sward develops it will help to protect habitats from field operations.

This is particularly important adjacent to watercourses, which are most vulnerable to spray drift and fertilisers. The reduction of diffuse pollution is a top priority, and buffer strips are a key and very effective tool.

The only times it is acceptable to take machines onto buffer strips is for cutting, and for work on adjacent habitats, such as ditch cleaning and hedge trimming.

There is no reason why you cannot create an additional strip for farm traffic next to your buffer strips. Note that this must be between the crop and the strip, rather than between the buffer strip and the habitat it is protecting.

It is worth taking a little time to read the rules on buffer strips in the ELS handbook. Pages 50 to 55 set out the choice of widths and the rules that govern them.

Consider carefully which widths will suit your farm and the machinery you have to manage them.

You should also give careful consideration to siting of buffer strips. After the establishment year – when you can cut as frequently as you think necessary in order to get the sward well established – you are only allowed to cut the strips once over the five-year life of your Entry Level Stewardship agreement.

So, you may not wish to site this option immediately adjacent to a hedge or wood edge containing a lot of vigorously suckering blackthorn, for example. This rule applies to EE1, EE2, and EE3, but not EE4, 5 & 6 (buffer strips on intensive grassland), which may be grazed at certain times of year).

Buffer strip options need careful planning at the outset to ensure that they dovetail with any other grassy strips you already have on the farm. Most notably, you should be aware that ELS is ADDITIONAL to cross-compliance requirements and public rights of way.

Also, they should not be sited next to 6–10m set-aside strips that have been established under your Single Farm Payment entitlement, but they may be sited adjacent to set-aside areas wider than 10m.

They can run alongside existing 2m or 4m width Countryside Stewardship margins, but not 6m margins.

Have your say: Why not visit the dedicated forum on stewardship

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Look back at December’s Q and A

  • 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