GS4: Legume and herb-rich swards

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the legume and herb-rich swards option.

How much will be paid

£309 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

Available for Mid Tier and Higher Tier


Whole or part parcel

Only on:

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

One of the following conditions must also be met:

  • a recommended fertiliser management system must be followed to plan nutrient inputs across the farm
  • a recommended fertiliser management system must be adopted within 18 months of the start of the agreement
  • the applicant must qualify as a low intensity farmer

Where the 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 parcels with historic or archaeological features in your HEFER or 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.


  • 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 10% cover of red clover
  • make sure the sward has an additional 10% cover of other legumes, herbs and wildflowers (not counting white clover, creeping buttercup or injurious weeds)
  • make sure that the sward contains at least 5 species of grass, 3 species of legume (including bird’s-foot trefoil) and 5 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
  • leave the sward to rest for at least 5 weeks between 1 May and 31 July, so that the majority of red clover flowers are open and available for pollinators
  • this option can be moved between different eligible parcels, but the same total area (hectarage) must be maintained each year

Do not:

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

Keeping records

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

  • field operations at the parcels level, including associated invoices
  • stock records to show grazing activity on parcels

On your annual claim you will be asked to declare that you haven’t carried out any activities prohibited by the option requirements.

A fertiliser management plan is required at application or within 18 months of the start of the agreement.

If applicants intend to use this option on permanent grassland, they will need to provide evidence with the application that it has been cultivated within the last 5 years.

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.

How to choose a site

The option allows only very limited use of pesticides so only fields that do not have a burden of weeds or slugs should be chosen. 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 PK (but not N) 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. Alternatively, 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 the sward is likely to need to be re-established in its third year.

Remember that 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. It is better suited to grazing than cutting, as its stout stem is difficult to dry and can damage bale wrapping material.

Further information

See the Mid Tier manual or Higher Tier manual to find out more about the scheme and how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 10 March 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated for 2017 applications.
  2. Information updated for applications in 2016.
  3. First published.