SW6: Winter cover crops

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the winter cover crops option.

How much will be paid

£114 per hectare (ha)

Where to use this option

Available for Countryside Stewardship Mid-Tier and Higher Tier Whole or part parcel Rotational Only on one of the following:

  • cultivated land that is vulnerable to nitrate leaching (land that is within a designated NVZ area)
  • cultivated land, draining directly to a watercourse, that is identified on the Farm Environment Record (FER) as at risk of soil erosion or surface runoff

The following options can be located on the same area as this option.

How this option will benefit the environment

Cover crops help to reduce nitrate leaching on land that would normally be left bare or down to stubbles during winter. It may also reduce the risk of potential pollutants, such as sediment and nutrients, being carried to neighbouring watercourses.


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.

Establish as soon as possible after the harvest (by early autumn at the latest), a suitably fast growing cover crop, providing a dense cover over the winter period. Destroy the cover crop in late winter, no more than 6 weeks before establishing the following spring crop.

Prohibited activities

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

  • Apply any fertilisers or manures

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.

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.

  • Field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices

Additional guidance and advice

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

How to choose the right location

This option on should be used on vulnerable soil types, particularly light sandy soils within nitrate vulnerable areas. Use the run-off and soil erosion risk assessment form to identify fields at moderate or higher risk of surface run-off or soil erosion. You can then mark these fields on your Farm Environment Record map. You don’t have to use this form. You can use your own document if it gives enough information to meet the requirements

Choice of cover crop

  • a mix or a single crop can be used, but crops should be suitable for winter sowing, fast growing (to mop up N) and frost tolerant to provide adequate cover over winter
  • a mixture of seeds, such as rye, vetch, phacelia, barley or mustard, can be sown, or other crops such as ryegrass or tillage radish, but the choice of cover crop will depend on herbicide selected and the rates of application for the previous crop
  • choice of cover crop will also depend on the crops grown in the rotation

How to manage the crop

  • Remove any areas of soil compaction but do not subsoil on archaeological features
  • Establish the cover crop by 15 September, so it can take up soil nitrate before winter drainage water leaches it below the depth of the developing plant
  • Establish by drilling or broadcasting
  • Sow at a suitable seed rate to provide a dense cover and protect from soil erosion
  • Destroy the cover crop in late January or February, before it is too well developed – if left too late nitrate leaching may increase the following winter
  • Cover crop destruction may include an application of glyphosate prior to destruction by cultivation for the following crop

Using this option next to a watercourse

On fields next to a watercourse that are at risk of soil erosion and runoff, applicants should also consider creating grass buffer strips. They will help to capture any sediment or organic materials carried in runoff water. Options SW1 - 4m to 6m buffer strip on cultivated land, SW4 - 12m to 24m watercourse buffer strip on cultivated land, or other grass buffer options may be used

Further information

Read more information about Countryside Stewardship Mid Tier and Higher Tier to find out more about the scheme and how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 9 February 2021 + show all updates
  1. Option updated for agreements starting 1 January 2022

  2. 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).

  3. Updated for 2017 applications.

  4. Information updated for applications in 2016.

  5. First published.