Guide to cross compliance in England: 2016

GAEC 4: Providing minimum soil cover

You must have a minimum soil cover

You must take all reasonable steps to protect soil by having a minimum soil cover unless there is an agronomic justification for not doing so, or where establishing a cover would conflict with requirements under GAEC 5 – Minimising soil erosion.

Minimum soil cover must be provided by:

  • vegetative cover by all types of crop, grass and herbaceous forage
  • cover crops and leguminous and nitrogen fixing crops (green manures)
  • trees, coppice, fruit crops, hops, nursery crops, vines
  • overwintered stubble from combinable crops
  • other stubbles and crop residues such as vegetable, maize and sugar beet

Agronomic reasons for not providing cover include:

  • where doing so would conflict with the requirements to limit or prevent soil erosion
  • land that is being managed for pest disease and weed control including, for example, land that has been cultivated or ploughed to prevent weeds going to seed
  • land being used for the installation and maintenance of field drains
  • areas created for agri-environment schemes or greening schemes, or for wildlife or biodiversity
  • heathland restoration techniques, such as turf stripping
  • heather and grass burning
  • where the action of frost over winter is used to break down soil naturally to create a seedbed for spring cropping
  • where the land is being prepared as a seedbed and the land is sown within 14 days of having been prepared, or where weather conditions don’t allow this, then as soon as reasonably practicable (feasible)
  • peatland that is bare but the claimant didn’t cause it to be bare
  • where the land is used for outdoor pig and poultry production and out-wintered livestock and it is not possible to maintain cover due to the action of the animals
  • land which is bare for the purposes of removing turf for non-fuel purposes
  • where RPA has given written permission to enhance the environment, improve public or agricultural access or for reasons relating to livestock or crop production.

For other agronomic reasons not listed here, contact RPA to apply for a derogation.

You may be at risk of failing an inspection if soil cover has not been provided by one of the cover types listed above.

You will not be in breach where an agronomic justification, listed above, is in place or where:

  • a derogation has been obtained from RPA
  • there would be a conflict in meeting your obligations to limit soil erosion

More information

Contact RPA for information about soil cover derogations which may be available.


Rural Payments Agency: 03000 200 301