AB9: Winter bird food

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the winter bird food option.

How much will be paid

£640 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

It is available for Mid Tier and Higher Tier on whole or part parcels in rotation on:

  • arable land
  • temporary grassland
  • bush orchards

Where this option cannot be used

  • On organic parcels or land in conversion
  • On land already receiving funding for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) declared for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)

How this option will benefit the environment

It provides important food resources for farmland birds, especially in autumn and winter.

If successful there will be:

  • an abundant and available supply of small seeds during the autumn and winter months
  • farmland birds eating the seeds from October and beneficial insects including bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies using the flowers during the summer


You must:

  • make sure blocks or strips are at least 6 metres (m) wide and a minimum of 0.4ha in size (the maximum individual plot size is 5ha)
  • establish by sowing a seed mix which contains at least 6 seed bearing crops between 15 February and 15 June. Seed mixes may contain a maximum of 3 of the following cereal crops - barley, oats, rye, triticale and wheat. No individual crop group must exceed 90% of the total mix by weight
  • re-establish one year mixes annually and two year mixes every other year, to maintain seed production
  • re-sow winter bird plots that fail to establish
  • keep winter bird food plots until 15 February each year

You can find more advice on what to sow/re-sow in the Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option section.

Keeping records

You must keep the following records and supply them on request:

  • seed invoices
  • field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices
  • photographs of the blocks or strips

We may ask to see these at any point during your agreement, this could be as part of an administrative check or during an inspection.

Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option

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

Pick the right location

Use this option on most areas of the farm, but mixtures work best in sunny locations and on fertile sites.

Avoid planting underneath overhanging trees or next to shading woodland, as this leads to poorer establishment, growth and seed production.

You should place winter bird food mixes next to a field edge but they can extend into the field. Leave access to surrounding crops to allow for management.

Block and plot sizes

Creating wider and bigger areas of winter bird food allows more seeds to remain undiscovered for longer, which extends their value well into winter. It also reduces the edge effect from adjacent land, such as fertiliser or pesticide drift.

Smaller areas tend to suffer from birds eating all the food within a short time.

What to sow

Sow plants that will provide an extended supply of seeds for farmland birds from autumn into late winter.

Annual mixtures can include a range of cereal, brassica or other small-seeded crops such as:

  • dwarf sunflower
  • fodder radish
  • gold of pleasure
  • linseed
  • mustard
  • quinoa
  • red millet
  • spring barley
  • spring oats
  • spring triticale
  • spring wheat
  • white millet

Include biennial crops such as kale, stubble turnip or teasel in 2-year mixtures.

Make sure a single crop group, such as cereals or brassicas, is not more than 90% of the total seed mix by weight. The table below shows the crops most commonly sown in winter bird food seed mixes.

Crop group Crops most commonly sown in winter bird food seed mixes
Cereal Barley
  Red millet
  White millet
Brassica Fodder radish
  Forage rape
  Gold of pleasure
  Oilseed rape
  Stubble turnip
Other Buckwheat
  Dwarf sunflower

To minimise the build-up of diseases, pests and weeds over time consider alternating between sowing cereal and brassica-based mixes on non-rotational plots every few years.

When and how to sow

Establish the plot between 1 March and 15 June, but ideally between mid-March and early June.

Create a fine and firm seedbed with seed sown at a depth between 1.5 centimetres (cm) and 2.5cm. Moisture and warmth will help any brassicas establish quickly to protect against flea beetle damage.

Managing the option

Apply nitrogen at a minimum of 50 kilograms (kg) per ha to create sufficient growth to smother annual weeds and produce plenty of seed. You can use herbicides in some winter bird food mixes; check with a BASIS-qualified agronomist. Rotate this option to a new site of clean ground if weed problems start to build up.

Remember that winter bird food should be in place until at least 31 December in year 5 of the agreement.

Further information

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

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 28 April 2020 + show all updates
  1. The Requirements and Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option sections were updated yesterday

  2. This page has been updated.

  3. Update in the What to sow section to explain no single crop group such as cereals or oilseeds should exceed 90% of the total seed mix by weight.

  4. The Requirements and Keeping records section of this page have been updated.

  5. 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).

  6. Information updated for applications in 2016.

  7. First published.