GS4: Legume and herb-rich swards

Natural England

May 15
13:06 2024

How much will be paid

382 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

It is available for Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier and Higher Tier on whole or part parcels in rotation, on:

  • arable land
  • temporary grassland
  • permanent grassland that has been cultivated and re-sown within the last 5 years

You must also meet one of the following conditions.

  • Follow a recommended fertiliser management system to plan nutrient inputs across the farm
  • Adopt a recommended fertiliser management system within 18 months of the start of the agreement
  • Qualify as a low intensity farmer

Where this option cannot be used

  • On parcels at risk of soil erosion or runoff as identified in the Farm Environment Record (FER)
  • On organic land or land in conversion to organic status
  • On historic or archaeological features (plus a suitable buffer) identified in your Historic Environment Farm Environmental Record (HEFER) or Farm Environment Record (FER)

How this option will benefit the environment

A vigorous sward with abundant legumes and herbs, suitable for productive cattle and sheep, will also provide habitat and food for invertebrates, including crop pollinators, and improve soil structure and water infiltration.

This option does not use nitrogen fertilisers, which contribute to climate change.


If youre selected for a site visit, we will check that delivery of the aims is being met and the prohibited activities have not been carried out. This will ensure the environmental benefits are being delivered.

After establishing in the first year, a mixture of legumes, herbs and wildflowers (as described in the recommended management) will be growing and flowering throughout the spring, summer and early autumn for the remainder of the agreement.

The sward will be left to rest for at least 5 weeks between 1 May and 31 July, so that the majority of flowers are open and available for pollinators

Prohibited activities

To achieve the aims and deliver the environmental benefits, do not carry out any of the following activities.

  • Use pesticides, except herbicides to spot treat or weed-wipe injurious weeds or invasive non-native species, soft and hard rush, nettles or bracken
  • Use inorganic fertilisers containing nitrogen

On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you have not carried out any prohibited activities.

To assist you in achieving the aims and deliver the environmental benefits for this option, we recommend that you use best practice.

We recommend that you:

  • Establish a mixed sward of grasses, legumes and herbs and wildflowers in the first 12 months of the agreement
  • Maintain the required area of mixed sward for the remainder of the agreement
  • Make sure the sward has a minimum 20% cover of other legumes and herbs (not counting white clover, creeping buttercup or injurious weeds)
  • Make sure that the seed mix sown contains at least 5 species of grass, 4 species of legume and 4 species of herb or wildflower
  • Re-establish the sward if necessary, on the same or a different field, to maintain these minimum requirements
  • Manage the sward by cutting or grazing

You can move this option between different eligible parcels, but you must maintain the same total area (hectarage) each year.

Please note other options cannot be claimed in the first year on the GS4 area prior to the GS4 being established.

Keeping records

Where there is uncertainty about whether the aims of the options have been delivered, we will take into account any records or evidence you may have kept demonstrating delivery of the aims of the option. This will include any steps youve taken to follow the recommended management set out above. Its your responsibility to keep such records if you want to rely on these to support your claim.

  • Field operations at the parcels level, including associated invoices
  • Stock records to show grazing activity on parcels
  • If you use the option on permanent grassland, evidence that it has been cultivated within the last 5 years
  • A fertiliser management plan that is in place at the time of application or within 18 months of the start of your agreement

Additional guidance and advice

The following advice is helpful, but they are not requirements for this item.

How to choose a site

The option allows only very limited use of pesticides so only choose fields that do not have a burden of weeds or slugs. Clovers, in particular, grow less well in soil that has a pH less than 6.0 and that is below index 2 for phosphorus and potassium. Soil can be improved with lime, manures or Phosphate and potassium (but not Nitrogen) fertiliser.

This option is not intended to be used on valuable semi-natural permanent pasture. Permanent grassland re-sown with grass or other herbaceous forage during the last 5 years, temporary grassland and other agricultural areas of grass could benefit from this option.

How to establish

Sow shallowly on to a firm, clean, fine seedbed. Or, sow into an established grass sward. Create at least 50% bare ground (and preferably 70%) and pay careful attention to slugs and other pests. Sowing legumes and herbs after August may not allow good enough establishment before the winter.


Most of the widely available, inexpensive cultivars of red clover have low persistence, so its likely that you will need to re-establish the sward in its third year. White and red clover can cause bloat, particularly in cattle.


Chicory is a highly productive species, eaten by cattle and sheep and effective in protecting against internal parasites. Its better suited to grazing than cutting, as its stout stem is difficult to dry and can damage bale wrapping material.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

This option can form part of an IPM approach to prevent the establishment of pests, weeds and diseases. If successful, appropriate and within proximity of cropped areas, these may limit the need for the use of Plant Protection Products and enhance wildlife and biodiversity on your holding. Read information on IPM at AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Integrated Pest Management and LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).


This option has been identified as being beneficial for biodiversity. All Countryside Stewardship habitat creation, restoration and management options are of great significance for biodiversity recovery, as are the wide range of arable options in the scheme.?Capital items and supplements can support this habitat work depending on the holdings situation and potential.

The connectivity of habitats is also very important and habitat options should be linked wherever possible. Better connectivity will allow wildlife to move/colonise freely to access water, food, shelter and breeding habitat, and will allow natural communities of both animals and plants to adapt in response to environmental and climate change.?

Further information

Read Countryside Stewardship: get funding to protect and improve the land you manage to find out more information about Mid Tier and Higher Tier including how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 15 May 2024 +show all updates
  1. Additional text at the bottom of the Recommended Management section.

  2. The Recommended management section of this page has been updated

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