GS5: Permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs option.

How much will be paid

£16 per hectare (ha)

Where to use this option

Available for Mid Tier and Higher Tier

Whole parcel (except when located with GS1)

Only on:

  • permanent grassland within severely disadvantaged areas (SDAs) and below the moorland line

Where this option cannot be used

Part parcel (except when located with GS1)

This option can only be used if one of the following criteria are met:

  • if the grassland qualifies as semi-improved (see Permanent grassland options eligibility assessment form)
  • to help the sustainable management and buffering of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or priority habitats
  • to maintain grassland to conserve species of national or regional importance, or protect historic or archaeological features
  • when in-field scrub cover is less than 1% and the option will be used in target areas for ground-nesting wading birds
  • on parcels adjacent to a permanent watercourse

Features that can be included in this option

The following features can be included if they are part of the land, even if they are ineligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS):

  • ditches, dykes, drains, rivers, streams that are less than 4 metres wide for the majority of their length in the parcel
  • temporary water
  • permanent water up to 0.1ha
  • natural unsurfaced roads, tracks, paths and bridleways, as long as the requirements below can be met
  • bracken
  • areas of scree, rock outcrops and boulders - each area can cover up to 0.1ha
  • grazed woodland and scrub that allows livestock access and has grass underneath

How this option will benefit the environment

If successful there will be:

  • more flowering grass and wildflower species
  • varied structures offering nectar and shelter for invertebrates
  • increased numbers of ground-nesting and feeding birds, particularly waders such as lapwing and snipe


  • graze or cut for hay or silage
  • remove any cuttings
  • maintain a sward with a range of heights during the growing season so that at least 20% is less than 7cm and 20% is more than 7cm. No height variation needs to be maintained when the field is closed up for a cut of hay or silage.
  • maintain soil above pH 5.4 by liming if necessary, unless the target is to maintain acid grassland. Do not apply paper waste or other industrial by-products.
  • when a parcel is cut for hay, haylage or silage, or grazed, you may apply either up to 12 tonnes/ha of farmyard manure, or inorganic fertiliser at a maximum rate of:
    • 9 kg/ha nitrogen
    • 23 kg/ha phosphate
    • 83 kg/ha potash
  • applications of fertiliser must not be increased if the current rate is less than this
  • graze or cut areas of dense rush growth so that they cover 20% or less of the parcel area and are less than 20 cm high by 30 September
  • keep areas of well-established scrub in separate small patches, lines and occasional individual bushes across the site where scrub cover is less than 5%
  • maintain between 5% and 10% scrub coverage in parcel areas where cover is equal to or above 5%
  • control areas where bracken is present so that the area does not increase
  • maintain areas covered by dwarf shrub
  • keep historic and archaeological features free of scrub and bracken

Do not:

  • plough, cultivate or re-seed
  • use pesticides, except for herbicides to spot-treat or weed-wipe to control nettles, bracken, injurious weeds or invasive non-native species
  • cut more than one-half of scrub in any one year, except on historic and archaeological features
  • harrow or roll on historic or archaeological features
  • use supplementary feed except for mineral blocks
  • allow bare ground in the form of small, well-distributed areas to cover more than 5% of the option area
  • allow bare ground to develop on historic or archaeological features
  • allow more than 5 square metres of localised patches of bare ground around rabbit warrens by year 2
  • carry out drainage works, including modifying existing drainage, without having Natural England’s written permission before work starts

Restrictions that apply on certain dates

  • 15 March to 30 June - do not apply fertiliser or manure
  • 15 March to 30 June - do not cut for hay or silage; do not operate machinery or allow activities that disturb breeding birds; do not cut bracken
  • 15 March to 31 July - do not cut rush

Keeping records

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

  • receipted invoices, consents or permissions connected with the work
  • field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices
  • a standard soil analysis to be completed in the final agreement year and results submitted with the final claim

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

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 evidence:

  • photographs of the management undertaken

Applicants will have to send the following with their application:

By the submission of the first claim, applicants will need to submit a laboratory soil analysis including at least pH and phosphate (P).

These options and supplements 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.

Choose the right location

Grassland which contains rare plant species is clearly valuable. It can still be valuable, and suited to this option, if it has a range of commoner herbs or dwarf shrubs such as red clover, yarrow, self heal, heather and bilberry.

Low input grassland is most valuable when located alongside other important landscape features such as scrub and wetlands in a mosaic approach.

Grassland is also the best protection for historic and archaeological features, as long as plants with powerful roots like scrub or bracken do not take hold, and bare ground does not develop.

Managing the sward

The land will be more valuable for insects, birds and other animals if it has a varied, patchy structure all year round. It is much easier to achieve this structure by grazing with cattle than by grazing with sheep only, which risks non-compliance with the Requirements.

Wet areas can be important sources of insect food and should be maintained where possible.

Check for breeding birds before operating machinery, even outside the closed period.

Further information

See this illustrated guide: Farming the historic landscape: caring for archaeological sites in grassland

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. Removed 'Do not apply fertiliser or manure in years when the parcel is not cut for hay, haylage or silage' from Requirements section.
  3. Information updated for applications in 2016.
  4. First published.