AB12: Supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the supplementary winter feeding for farmland birds option.

How much will be paid

£669 per tonne for every 2 hectares (ha) of winter bird food.

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
  • bush orchards

Only where a qualifying area of AB9 - Winter bird food is included in the agreement (you can apply for 1 tonne of AB12 supplementary feeding for every 2ha of AB9 winter bird food).

Where this option cannot be used

  • On organic parcels or land in conversion

You can locate the following option on the same area as this option.

How this option will benefit the environment

Winter supplementary feeding

It provides important food resources for farmland birds in late winter and early spring on arable and mixed farms, by supplementing crops of winter bird food with additional seed, such as cereal, oilseed and specialised grains. It gives the birds food through the late winter period when seed is in short supply (known as the hungry gap) and as they enter the breeding season.

If successful there will be seed-eating farmland birds using the feeding areas from December to April, including:

  • yellowhammer
  • grey partridge
  • tree sparrow
  • corn bunting
  • linnet
  • turtle dove (seen during the spring and summer)

Target birds will be seen more frequently on the farm in the spring and there will be increased breeding success there.

Summer supplementary feeding

You can also use this option in combination with the SP9 Threatened species supplement to deliver summer supplementary feeding for turtle doves in priority areas.

You can find more information on how to carry out summer supplementary feeding for turtle doves in the Where to use this option, Recommended management and Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option sections for SP9.


If you’re 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.

From 1 December to 30 April, there will be about 25 kilograms (kg) of both cereals and other small seeds (see recommended management for details of the seed mix) scattered once a week in multiple locations. For every 1 tonne of supplementary feed, there will be two feeding stations supplying 500kg each (or if there is less than 1 tonne of supplementary feed, it will be split equally between 2 separate feeding stations).

The seed will be scattered in areas which are firm and free-draining, such as farm tracks or hard standing areas, and in close proximity to enhanced overwinter stubbles, game cover or wild bird seed mixtures.

Keep a feeding diary which includes details of mixture used (weight of components and cost), dates of feeding, method of feeding (hopper or spreading), amount of feed, and the location of feeding areas.

Prohibited activities

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

  • use hoppers to supply more than 10% of the total amount of feed provided during the specified feeding period
  • use tailings (small seeds and chaff removed from the harvested crop) as supplementary feed
  • use a mix which contains more than 70% cereals
  • use any one species to supply more than 50% of the non-cereal seed component by weight

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

Recommended management

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:

  • make sure the winter supplementary feeding mix must include both cereals (not maize) and other small seeds.
  • make sure the other small seeds component is a minimum of 30% of the total mix by weight and contain at least 3 of the following, with no individual species being more than 50% of the total small seed component by weight:
    • canary seed
    • linseed
    • oilseed rape
    • red millet
    • sunflower hearts
    • white millet
  • spread the winter supplementary feeding mix at a rate of 25kg once a week for 20 weeks between 1 December until 30 April, at each of 2 separate feeding locations. You can vary the amount to be fed by up to 5kg per week to match demand as necessary
  • select feeding areas that are firm and free-draining, such as farm tracks or hard standing areas, and in close proximity to enhanced overwinter stubbles, game cover or wild bird seed mixtures

For advice on what to feed, see the Additional guidance and advice section.

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 you’ve taken to follow the recommended management set out above. It’s your responsibility to keep such records if you want to rely on these to support your claim.

  • Details of the mixture used (weight of components and cost)
  • Dates of feeding
  • Method of feeding (hopper or spreading)
  • Amount of feed
  • The location of the feeding areas

Additional guidance and advice

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

Pick the right location

When planning which feeding sites to use, make sure they can be reached regularly. This is especially important if bad weather will cause problems travelling to them during the winter.

It’s important for the health of the birds benefiting from the supplementary feeding that you maintain clean and healthy feeding areas. It’s very important to rotate feeding sites around the farm, but each site should be near existing sown resources.

Manage how and when to supplementary feed

Having 2ha of AB9 Winter bird food in the agreement allows you to spread 1 tonne of supplementary feed each year, split equally between 2 feeding stations, so 500kg per year per feeding station.

Where less than 2ha of AB9 is put into the agreement, you can include a pro-rata amount of AB12. For example, the minimum area allowed of AB9 is 0.4ha. This would allow you to include 200kg of AB12, spread equally between two feeding stations, so 100kg per year per feeding station.

You should start supplementary feeding before the sown winter bird food runs out. This keeps farmland birds using the areas and prevents a dip in their winter condition.

Distribute enough supplementary food to match the birds’ consumption, so that seed is not left uneaten. This will make sure that a fresh supply of food is maintained, which will keep birds healthy and reduce any rodent problems. This is particularly important when ground feeding, or if hoppers are left unprotected.

Where possible stagger feeding at different feeding stations to reduce the risk of seeds being left uneaten. Staggered feeding can also reduce non target species such as rodents, crows and pigeons from eating the supplementary feed. Do not leave the feed in piles, make sure it is well dispersed.

Prepare to be flexible, so that if the winter period is extended through bad weather, you can adjust the amount of feeding planned and extend for any additional days or weeks that are needed. This makes sure that birds are not left with a ‘hungry gap’ before the natural seed resources on the farm become available.

What seed mix to use

The following example mix will supply a range of seeds readily taken by most farmland birds.

  • 70% wheat
  • 10% white millet
  • 10% oilseed rape
  • 5% canary seed
  • 5% sunflower hearts


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 holding’s 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 8 February 2022 + show all updates
  1. New payment rate from 1 January 2022

  2. Option updated for agreements starting from 1 January 2022.

  3. The How this option will benefit the environment, Requirements and Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option sections were updated yesterday

  4. This page has been updated

  5. Updated for 2017 applications.

  6. Information updated for applications in 2016.

  7. First published.