SW4: 12m to 24m watercourse buffer strip on cultivated land

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the 12m to 24m watercourse buffer strip on cultivated land option.

How much will be paid

£512 per hectare (ha).

If used as Ecological Focus Area (EFA): £96 per ha

Where to use this option

Available for Mid Tier and Higher Tier

  • only on cultivated land identified on the Farm Environment Record (FER) as at risk of soil erosion or surface runoff
  • only on land next to ditches, rivers or streams

Where this option cannot be used

  • overlapping a public right of way (such as a footpath or bridleway)

How this option will benefit the environment

It establishes a grass buffer to help reduce the risk of potential pollutants, such as sediment, pesticides and nutrients (mainly phosphate), being transported to watercourses in surface water runoff. It may also provide habitat for wildlife, and form links between other habitats.


  • establish or maintain a 12 to 24m wide grass buffer strip during the first 12 months of the agreement
  • cut the 6m next to the crop along the entire length of the buffer strip every year after 15 July, once the strip has been established
  • only cut the remainder of the strip to control woody growth
  • exclude all livestock from the strip

Do not:

  • apply any fertilisers or manures
  • use the buffer strip as an access route for vehicles or stock
  • use pesticides, except for herbicides to weed wipe or spot treat injurious weeds, invasive non-native species, nettles or bracken

Keeping records

Agreement holders will need to keep the following records and supply them on request:

  • field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices

The following options can be located on the same area as this option:

Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option

The following section gives advice on carrying out this option successfully but does not form part of the requirements for this option.

Using this option on existing buffer strips

This option can be used on buffer strips that are already established, unless they are required or being paid for through another scheme. The buffer strip should be on land that can be cultivated (eg it cannot be on a very steeply banked strip alongside a boundary).

Buffer strips established under Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) can continue to be managed under a new Countryside Stewardship agreement.

How to choose a site

Create the buffer strip adjacent to a watercourse across a long, steep slope, to intercept and slow runoff water before it builds to a damaging flow. Care should be taken to minimise the amount of water that is channelled along the edge of the buffer strip.

How to manage the buffer strip

  • remove any subsoil compaction where required to prepare a seedbed, except on archaeological features
  • control weeds and cut regularly in the first 12 to 24 months of establishment to encourage grasses to tiller
  • avoid cutting when the soil is wet, to prevent compaction
  • the buffer strip should remain in place and not be re-sown for the duration of the agreement

The buffer strip can be partly covered by a hedge, as long as the hedge is located on land that is eligible for this option (see the Mid Tier manual section 6.7).

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