Guidance: Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot: summary of advice

Forestry Commission

September 14
15:56 2021

This advice is for farmers piloting the Sustainable Farming Incentive.

How to use this advice

Each standard contains actions you must complete to be paid under the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot. See all the Sustainable Farming Incentive pilot guidance.

The advice on this page can help you complete the actions and get better environmental and business benefits, but how you complete the actions is up to you. You do not have to follow this advice to get paid.

Arable and horticultural land

The following advice is helpful for doing the actions in the arable and horticultural land standard, but is not required.

Resources for farm wildlife

The arable and horticultural land standard aims to provide year-round resources for farm wildlife.

You can use the following to provide the winter seed food resource. For some of these you will need to provide a larger area, as they do not provide as much seed as a sown mix. You can do a combination of the following actions.

2% of sown winter seed food is equivalent to:

  • 2% unharvested cereal headlands
  • 2% ryegrass seed set
  • 5% enhanced over winter stubble retained until 31 July in the following year
  • 5% brassica fodder crops
  • 10% basic over winter stubble
  • 10% whole crop cereal retained as over winter stubble

Stubbles should not follow maize. Seed availability in stubbles may be limited, so you should ideally provide at least 1% of the winter seed food resource through a sown mix.

Sown winter seed food mixes should not include the following structural components:

  • artichokes
  • canary grass
  • giant and intermediate sorghum
  • maize
  • miscanthus
  • sweet clover
  • tic beans

You should employ a range of actions and distribute these around the farm, in suitable locations and suitable plot sizes.

You can use these actions to buffer existing semi-natural habitats, such as woodland. But be aware that certain actions will not do well in shady areas, this includes legume and wildflower-rich habitats, bare ground habitats, ryegrass seed set and sown winter bird food plots.

Many actions can be rotated, which allows for weed control in years when the land is going back into a crop.

Basic overwintered stubbles and enhanced overwintered stubbles should not be located where there is a high risk of soil erosion.

If the land is also entered into the arable soils standard, stubble should not be left over winter where it will conflict with the requirements of that standard.

You can establish a cover crop on up to 50% of your stubbles, by under or oversowing, but not on the edges of fields which support rare arable plants (leave a strip of at least 12m unsown).

A proportion of in-field trees over 30cm DBH should be buffered. The 10m buffer should be measured from the edge of the trunk. Buffers around in-field trees should not be cut or used for the storage of machinery or materials.

Hedges also provide year-round resources for wildlife but should be managed through the hedgerow standard. Hedgerow buffer strips that are included in the hedgerows standard cannot count in the percentage of land actively managed to provide resources for farmland birds or other wildlife within the arable and horticultural land standard.

You can read this advice for help to

Intermediate and advanced levels

These levels provide a greater area of year-round resources (8% in intermediate level and 10% in advanced level). They include additional specific actions for species such as:

  • nesting lapwing
  • feeding grey partridge and turtle dove
  • rare arable plants
  • insect predators of crop pests

You should employ a range of actions and distribute these around the farm, in suitable locations and suitable plot sizes.

Legume and flower-rich mixes, and other actions which provide a dense ground cover with no annual cultivation, should not be sown in areas which support rare arable plants.

You can read this advice for help to

Supplementary winter bird feeding gives farmland birds food through the late winter period when seed is in short supply (known as the hungry gap).

If you choose this option it must be in addition to the requirement for winter seed food provided through a sown winter bird food mix. Use the following ratio to calculate the area which contributes to the 0.5ha or 0.5% requirement - 1ha of sown winter bird food allows 500kg of supplementary feeding.

You can read this advice for help to provide supplementary winter food for birds.

It is acceptable, and indeed beneficial, to select more than one of the additional actions to make up the 0.5ha or 0.5% requirement. For example, a 400ha farm requires 2ha of additional actions. They could provide 1ha of cultivated margins for arable plants and 500kg of supplementary winter bird feeding.

Less frequent ditch management will help to provide additional habitat for farm wildlife, including aquatic plants and invertebrates, fish and amphibians, water voles and flowering plants for pollinating insects. Ditches include temporarily dry watercourses.

This requirement only applies where the applicant has control over the management of the ditch.

Ditches managed by the Environment Agency or an Internal Drainage Board are exempt.

You can read this advice for help to create and manage ditches for wildlife.

Advanced level

To benefit from predatory insects feeding on crop pests, actions which provide a tussocky or flower-rich cover should be located next to and/or within the cropped area.

These include beetle banks, tussocky grass buffers, strips of legumes and wildflowers, tall stubbles, cover crops, legume fallows, and cultivated strips which are left to grow broad-leaved weeds and rare arable plants.

These actions can count towards the 10% of your farmed area.

You can read this advice for help to:

Ensure there is a range of habitats to provide year-round resources for invertebrates:

In addition to the sown and managed resour

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