Guide to cross compliance in England: 2016

GAEC 6: Maintaining the level of organic matter in soil

You must maintain your soil organic matter through appropriate practices.

To maintain the level of organic matter in soil, you must not burn cereal straw or cereal stubble or certain crop residues (that is, oilseed rape, field beans harvested dry, peas harvested dry) except for plant health reasons, where a notice has been served under the Plant Health (England) Order 2005.

The burning of broken bales is allowed, provided arable stubble is not burned as well.

Burning crop residues for plant health reasons

If straw, stubble or crop residue is burned for plant health reasons, there are restrictions on where and when you can do it:

  • the area to be burned must be at least 150 metres from any other area in which crop residues are being burned
  • the crop residues to be burned must be 100 metres or more from any motorway, A-road, dual carriageway or railway line
  • you must not burn crop residues on any weekend or bank holiday or during the period between one hour before sunset and the following sunrise
  • intervening land must be cleared of crop residue or the residues must be incorporated into the land before burning

You must also meet the rules set out in Schedule 2 of the Crop Residues (Burning) Regulations 1993 if you burn linseed residues.

Some restrictions depend on the type of crop residue that you are burning, as shown in this table

Crop Residue

Restriction Cereal straw or stubble Residue of oilseed rape, field beans harvested dry or peas harvested dry
Firebreak must be at least 10 metres wide must be at least 5 metres wide
Limit of burning area no more than 10 hectares no more than 20 hectares
Minimum distance from the trunk of any tree, any hedgerow, any fence not the property of the occupier of the land upon which the burning is carried out, any pole or pylon which is or may be used to carry telegraph or telephone wires and any electricity pole, pylon or substation At least 15 metres At least 5 metres
Minimum distance from any building, any scheduled monument which could be set alight, any stack of hay or straw, any accumulation of combustible material other than crop residues removed in the making of a fire-break, any mature standing crop, any woodland or land managed as a nature reserve, any structure containing livestock and any oil or gas installation on or above the surface of the ground At least 50 metres At least 15 metres

At least an hour before burning crop residues, as far as reasonably practicable (feasible), you must warn:

  • the environmental health department of the district council in whose district the burning is to take place
  • the occupiers of all premises adjacent to the area to be burned
  • the air traffic control at any aerodrome with a perimeter fence within 800 metres of the area to be burned

When burning crop residues, you must make sure that you have at least 1,000 litres of water available in one or more mobile containers and a means of dispensing it in a spray or jet at a rate of 100 litres per minute. You must also provide at least 5 fire beaters. Any vehicles you use in connection with burning must be equipped with a fire extinguisher.

All persons concerned with the burning must be familiar with the regulations. Except where emergency makes this impractical, each area to be burned must be supervised by two responsible adults, one of whom has experience of burning crop residues.

Ash from burnt cereal straw or cereal stubble must be incorporated into the soil within 24 hours of starting burning. If this is not possible due to wind conditions or the risk of causing a nuisance, you should do it as soon as conditions allow.

Burning heather or grass

To comply with the Heather and Grass Burning Regulations (2007), you must make sure that you:

  • don’t burn specific vegetation (heather, rough grass, bracken, gorse or vaccinium) outside the burning season. The burning season is from 1st October to 15th April for uplands, and from 1st November to 31st March for land not within an upland area
  • have enough people and equipment to control burning
  • take all reasonable precautions not to injure or damage any neighbouring land, or to any person or thing on it

You may need a licence if you want to burn in certain conditions or at particular times of the year. You can find out about these on GOV.UK.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

The aim of The Environment Impact Assessment (Agriculture)(England)(No 2) Regulations (2006), and The Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry)(England and Wales) Regulations 1999 is to not plough, cultivate or intensify species-rich and semi-natural habitats so as to keep organic matter and carbon levels in soils.

To comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture)(England)(No 2) Regulations 2006 you must not:

  • begin or carry out a project to increase the agricultural productivity of uncultivated land or a semi-natural area (an uncultivated land project) which meets or exceeds the thresholds, or on land to which a screening notice applies, unless you have a screening decision permitting the project to go ahead
  • begin or carry out a significant project on uncultivated land or a semi-natural area without first obtaining consent from Natural England
  • fail to comply with a stop notice or a remediation notice.

To comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry)(England and Wales) Regulations 1999, you must:

  • not carry out afforestation on agricultural land or deforestation projects on existing woodland unless you have permission from the Forestry Commission (FC)
  • carry out the project according to the consent
  • meet the requirements of enforcement notices.


Rural Payments Agency: 03000 200 301
Natural England: 0345 600 3078