SW12: Making space for water

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the making space for water option.

How much will be paid

£640 per hectare (ha).

How long this option lasts

This option lasts for 20 years, instead of the standard 5 years for the grant scheme. This is because the work needs a high level of change.

Where to use this option

Available for Higher Tier

Whole or part parcel

Only on arable, temporary grassland or improved permanent grassland that meets all of the following conditions:

  • the site, either alone or as part of a group application, forms a natural hydrological unit
  • the Environment Agency have provided written support
  • the site is identified in a relevant Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) strategic river restoration plan, or River Basin Management Plan

To use this option an applicant must also meet one of the following conditions:

  • be following a recommended fertiliser management system to plan nutrient inputs across the farm
  • plan to 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

  • from 1 January 2019, on land already receiving funding for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) declared for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

Features that can be included in this option

Over the life of the agreement the features present on the land may change or move. The following features can be included even if they are ineligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS):

  • new areas of water (rivers, streams, becks and brooks, ponds, standing water), bare ground, cobble, gravel
  • increased areas of water (rivers, streams, becks and brooks, ponds, standing water

How this option will benefit the environment

It will help water flow in a winding course across floodplains, flooding temporarily to restore river and wetland habitats. This will also reduce the risk of high energy flows and soil erosion, and allow water to drain freely back into the river channel.

If successful there will be:

  • new areas of river and wetland habitats appearing, such as new channels, temporary ponds in old channels and wet grassland
  • gradual erosion and movement of the river bed and river banks
  • deposits of gravel, sand and silt appearing in the river channel and on the floodplain after a flood


Agreement holders are likely to need to:

  • prepare the land to receive additional floodwater from the watercourse next to it and allow the river and water to move freely in the floodplain
  • establish grassland
  • follow grazing or cutting requirements, including exclude livestock at certain times
  • limit manure and fertiliser applications

The agreement will set out what must not be done. It is likely agreement holders will not be allowed to:

  • use pesticides other than for control of injurious weeds or invasive species
  • create new tracks for vehicle access
  • undertake land forming and earthworks, works to river banks or bed, flood defences or bank protection and drainage works other than as set out in the agreement
  • carry out supplementary feeding

Keeping records

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

  • any bank statements, receipted invoices, consents or permissions connected to the work
  • a record of all management activity on the option area for each parcel
  • a monthly record of the numbers of livestock grazing each parcel

You should also be aware that at the start of each claim year, a percentage of agreement holders will be asked to take and submit the following photographic records:

  • photographs of work completed on shingle banks, river channels, flood defences or bank protection, or any completed land forming or earth works

Applicants will need to send the following with their application:

  • written support from the Environment Agency
  • a map of the land drainage system
  • a map of permitted access routes
  • photographs of areas proposed for works on shingle banks, river channels, flood defences or bank protection, or areas of land forming and earthworks
  • evidence that a recommended fertiliser management system is used or evidence to support low intensity farmer claim - this information can be provided with the application or within 18 months of the start of the agreement, as applicable
  • SSSI strategic river restoration plan or river basin management plan

The detailed requirements for this option will be tailored to the Higher Tier site. Applicants should discuss and agree these requirements with their adviser.

The following options and supplements can be located in 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.

How to choose the right location

In most cases professional advice will be needed to choose the right location for this option. It is usually in areas where flooding and river movement is the most active. Marginal land next to river SSSIs that require restoration for river habitats and species is suitable. In some circumstances this option may be suitable for land next to priority habitat rivers.

The option must not be used where there is an existing obligation to carry out the works or management required, eg as a planning condition or as compensation.

This options aims to restore natural river movement which in most cases is likely to make the land ineligible for BPS. Applicants should check with the RPA before claiming BPS on the land under this option.

Consents and permissions

Applicant will need advice and relevant consents from the Environment Agency, Natural England and the local authority before carrying out any work.

Feasibility studies

A Feasibility Study will be required to assess the feasibility to restore the river on the site. A feasibility study can be funded.

Capital works plan

A capital works plan will be needed to set out how to alter the current course of the river. It should include the engineering requirements to remove flood banks or bank protection. Funding is available to help support the development of an implementation plan and to carry out major preparatory works.

Get help to carry out this option

In some cases it may be necessary to hire a specialist project or site manager to act as a clerk of works to help carry out this option.

Access routes and managing flood risk

New routes or bridges to access and maintain the site may be required. These should not be located where they will affect future river movement or temporary flooding.

Escape routes and refuge areas for people or livestock to use during floods must be identified.

Work with neighbouring farms

Applicant might need to work with neighbouring farms to manage land within the hydrological unit and ensure access to the land.

Further information

Whole-river restoration strategies have been developed for rivers designated as SSSIs. This option can be used to help implement them. Read more about restoring designated rivers in England on the River Restoration Centre website.

River Basin Management Plans are drawn up for river basin districts in England, Wales and Scotland as a requirement of the water framework directive.

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

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 17 May 2018 + show all updates
  1. From 1 January 2019, this option cannot be used on land already receiving funding for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) declared for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
  2. Updated for 2017 applications.
  3. Information updated for applications in 2016.
  4. First published.