ADAS advice on managing ditches in Environmental Stewardship schemes

In the eighth of FWi / ADAS’s frequently asked questions regarding Environmental Stewardship schemes ADAS’s David Middleditch, examines the options available for managing ditches.

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. Under cross compliance I can top the 2m protective zone around my ditches, but I have entered these ditches into the ditch management option of ELS – how do I organise my cutting regime?


A. The protective zone for cross compliance is 2m from the centre of the ditch or 1m from the top of the ditch bank, whichever is greater. You are allowed to top this whenever you like, although it is recommended that it is done outside the main bird breeding season (1 March to 31 July).


This zone in your ditches in ELS Ditch Management option (EB6) can still be topped.


The restricted cutting area (in ELS EB6) starts from the brink (the start of the slope) of the ditch and down to the water.


The Ditch Management option in ELS aims to encourage bankside and aquatic vegetation and to provide undisturbed wildlife habitat adjacent to the ditch, so cutting of any one piece of ground is limited to every other year at the most, and you are only allowed to cut between 15 September and 28 February to minimise the risk of disturbing nesting birds.


Note that the ELS area can be left for longer than a bi-annual cut if you prefer the grassy sward to develop, which can provide dense, tussocky vegetation for wildlife. This is your choice.


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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