AB9: Winter bird food

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

How much will be paid

£732 per hectare (ha).

Where to use this option

  • Available for Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier and Higher Tier

  • Whole or part parcel

  • Rotational

  • Only on:

    • arable land
    • temporary grassland
    • bush orchards

Where this option cannot be used

  • On organic parcels or land in conversion

How this option will benefit the environment

It provides important food resources (small seeds) for farmland birds, especially in autumn and winter.

The flowering plants will benefit insects including bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies and hoverflies.


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.

During the spring or summer, the seed mix, containing at least 6 small seed-bearing crops (not maize), will be established in blocks or strips of at least 6 metres (m) wide and between 0.4ha and 5ha in size. For 2 year mixes, during the second spring biennial plants, such as kale, will show continued growth and development.

Throughout the summer the plants will be growing and flowering.

By autumn the plants will have set seed, this will provide the much-needed supply of small seeds throughout the winter, until at least mid-February.

Prohibited activities

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

  • allow an individual crop group to exceed 90% of the total mix by weight
  • sow the following crops:
    • Artichokes
    • Canary grass
    • Giant and intermediate sorghum
    • Maize
    • Miscanthus
    • Sweet clover
    • Tic beans

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

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 blocks or strips are at least 6m 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
  • 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

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.

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

Additional guidance and advice

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.

Structural crops

Structural crops that predominantly provide cover, and/or support for weaker stemmed crops such as barley and millet (which can be prone to lodging), can be included in the seed mix.

The following structural crops can be included:

  • chicory
  • dwarf sorghum
  • Japanese reed millet
  • sweet fennel

To ensure that these structural crops do not adversely compete with the main seed-bearing crops the following maximum seed rates are recommended:

  • chicory - 0.3 kg/ha
  • dwarf sorghum - 5 kg/ha
  • Japanese reed millet - 2 kg/ha
  • sweet fennel - 1 kg/ha

Where two or more structural crops are included in a seed mix reduce the maximum seed rate for each structural crop by 50%.

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 2.5 cm. 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.

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

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

This option can form part of an IPM approach to prevent the establishment of pests, weeds and diseases. If successful, appropriate and within proximity of cropped areas, these may limit the need for the use of Plant Protection Products and enhance wildlife and biodiversity on your holding. Read information on IPM at AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Integrated Pest Management and LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).


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. Additional guidance and advice section updated - this option can form part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to prevent the establishment of pests, weeds and diseases.

  2. 'Structural crops' section has been added and 'Prohibited activities' section has been updated.

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

  4. The Requirements and Advice and suggestions for how to carry out this option sections were updated yesterday

  5. This page has been updated.

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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).

  9. Information updated for applications in 2016.

  10. First published.