Getting to grips with greening, agri-environment schemes and cross compliance


In this briefing we cover:

The aim is to remind you what you might need to think about and to point you to the relevant documentations and online leaflets for more detailed information. Please note that though every effort has been made to ensure the details contained in this update are correct, they are intended as a guide and you are advised to read the full detail in the relevant Defra publications referred to prior to making any final decisions.

CAP greening

GreeningIf you make a Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claim, the greening rules are compulsory. Applicants that don’t follow them will lose some – or all – of their greening payment. The amount lost will depend on the level of non-compliance. In 2015, the maximum amount a farmer could lose if they don’t follow the rules is 30% of their total payment.

Farmers that have an agri-environment scheme agreement and apply for BPS will still have to follow the greening rules; it’s worth remembering that land area in some stewardship options can count as fallow land and can contribute towards the requirement to provide Ecological Focus Area (see 2 below).

Livestock farmers with temporary grassland still have to follow the crop diversification and Ecological Focus Area rules (unless they qualify for an exemption) because temporary grassland counts as arable land under the BPS. It’s worth remembering that land used for livestock production that is not sown with another crop is counted as temporary grassland – if it’s been used for less than five years. For example, if a farmer has pigs on stubble, this should be declared on their BPS application.

The full rules on eligibility are explained in the Basic Payment Scheme Guidance for 2015, which was published on 24 February 2015 and has been posted to all claimants, can be found here.

There are three greening rules. These are:

  1. Permanent Grassland - The area of permanent grassland (when compared to the agricultural area) in England must not fall by more than 5%.

    Permanent grassland is land that has been used to grow grasses or other herbaceous forage for five years or more. It can be self-seeded or sown. If the land has been re-sown with grass or other herbaceous forage during the past five years, it is still considered to be permanent grassland.

    The definition of permanent grassland is the same as that under the SPS rules.

    Remember farmers must gain consent from Natural England before ploughing or improving land that has not been cultivated for 15 years or that is semi-natural grassland (or another semi-natural area). This can be done by making an initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening application. For more information visit this page.

  2. Crop Diversification - This has been more commonly referred to as the 3 Crop Rule. The basic rule states the following.

    • If a farmer has between 10 and 30 hectares of arable land at least two different crops must be grown on that land and the largest crop must not cover more than 75% of that arable land.
    • If a farmer has more than 30 hectares of arable land then at least three different crops must be grown on that land and the largest crop must not cover more than 75% of that arable land and the two largest crops together must not cover more than 95% of that arable land.

    This is an annual calculation so different cropping can be used to achieve the requirement annually. Note that this is the arable land you have in May 2015; arable land includes temporary grass for these purposes.

    There are three possible exemptions which could mean a farmer does not have to comply with the Crop Diversification requirement.

    Crop Diversification exemptions for 2015 (similar rules will apply after 2015
    Exemption A   Exemption B   Exemption C

    More than 75% of your arable land will be:

    • Fallow land
    • Temporary grass
    • A combination of the above

    And the rest of your arable land will be 30 hectares or less


    More than 75% of your eligible agricultural land will be:

    • Permanent grassland
    • Temporary grassland
    • A combination of the above

    And the rest of your arable land will be 30 hectares or less


    You have new land and different crops. There are two parts to this exemption:

    1. More than 50% of arable land you declare on your BPS 2015 application was not declared in your 2014 application
    2. All the arable parcels you declare on your BPS 2015 application must be used to grow a different crop from the 2014 year

    For the full details, please see the Basic Payment Scheme guidance for 2015, which can be found here.

    Don’t forget that if you follow the rules Nitrogen Fixing Crops and Fallow Land can count towards both Ecological Focus Area and Crop Diversification.

  3. Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs) – The EFA requirement can be met by five main options: cover or catch crops; nitrogen fixing crops; fallow land; buffer strips; or hedges. If a farmer has more than 15ha of arable land and the land is not exempt from greening requirements, EFAs have to be implemented.

    Ecological Focus Area exemptions (these will apply from 2015 onwards)
    Exemption A Exemption B

    More than 75% of your arable land will be:

    • Fallow land
    • Temporary grass
    • Used for the cultivation of leguminous crops
    • A combination of the above

    And the rest of your arable land will be 30 hectares or less

    More than 75% of your arable land will be:

    • Fallow land
    • Temporary grass
    • Used for the cultivation of crops grown in water (such as watercress)
    • A combination of the above

    And the rest of your arable land will be 30
    hectares or less

    The requirement is that an area equivalent to 5% of the arable area (including the first 15ha) should be declared as ecological focus area.

    Several EFA options can be used in combination to reach the EFA area requirement, not all options are weighted equally. Farmers can use different EFA options annually to meet greening requirements. The complete range of options that will be available to English farmers and the weighting is shown in the table below.

    EFA option   Weighting   Location   What = 1ha
    Catch or cover crops   0.3   Arable land   3.3ha of cover crops
    Nitrogen-fixing crop   0.7   Arable land   1.4ha of nitrogen-fixing crop
    Fallow land   1   Arable land   1ha of fallow land
    Buffer strips   9 (1 linear metre of buffer strip counts as 9m2 of EFA)   On or adjacent to arable land, next to a watercourse or parallel with and on a slope leading to one   1.1km
    Hedges   10 (1 linear metre of hedge counts as 10m2 of EFA)   On or adjacent to arable land   1km

    • Catch/cover crops - Must consist of at least two cover types (one cereal and one non-cereal) that establishes quickly, achieves ground cover and will utilise available nutrients - including rye, vetch, phacelia, barley, mustard, oats and lucerne. It does not include crops that are usually grazed except where grass is undersown in a previous crop. Minimum area of 0.01ha. For 2015, catch crops need to be established by 31 August and retained until 1 October in the same year. Cover crops need to be established by 1 October and retained until 15 January the following year. Grazing should be avoided.
    • Nitrogen-fixing crops - These must be in the ground for the same period as crops under crop diversification. Minimum area of 0.01ha.
    • Fallow - Fallow land is arable land, including temporary grassland, that has no crop production or grazing on it. This land must be maintained in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation. To be counted toward EFA it must be in place for the whole of the fallow period (1 January to 30 June) and have a minimum width of 2m and have no crops planted or sown on it during this period. Sowing of wild bird mixes or nectar sources is allowed in the fallow period providing it is an unharvestable mix. Fallow land can be placed adjacent EFA buffer strips. Grass can be sown on fallow land during the fallow period as longs as no agricultural production is carried out.

    Don’t forget certain Environmental Stewardship Options can be used as fallow land. The table below may help you decide which ELS / HLS Options you can use.

    Is my ELS Option Eligible as an EFA?

    • Buffer strips - Minimum width of 1m. Buffer strips must be next to a watercourse. The same buffer strips can be used for greening and cross compliance. There must be no production on the buffer strip, but grazing/cutting is allowed.
    • Hedges - The length of the hedge must be located adjacent to arable land parcels at your disposal and both sides of the hedge are next to arable crops in those parcels of land. Hedges can be counted if they are separated from arable land by a feature that is eligible for BPS.
    • EFA hedges next to fallow land, nitrogen-fixing crops or catch/cover crops - Under the EFA rules, an additional rule applies if a farmer has:

      • a) a field with EFA fallow land, nitrogen-fixing crops or catch/cover crops in, and
      • b) an EFA hedge around the edge of the field (around any part of it or all the way around the edge) and the hedge is directly next to the area of the field being used for EFA fallow/cropping.
      The hedge and the fallow land, nitrogen-fixing crops or catch/cover crops can be included as part of their EFA. However, the area of the fallow land, nitrogen-fixing crops or catch/cover crops must be reduced to take account of the area taken up by the hedge. To do this, a farmer must reduce the area of the crop or fallow by 2.5 square-metres for each metre length of EFA hedge in the field.

Agri-environment schemes

Woodland creation is a potential component of Higher Tier Countryside StewardshipDefra has made the initial announcements on the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. Full details of this announcement can be found here.

This section of the update looks at both existing and new schemes.

Existing Environmental Stewardship schemes

Existing Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) and Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreements will run to their conclusion. It is possible that options will be able to count as EFA fallow land; this will be the case where the management prescription fits with the EFA rules and where the option is situated on eligible arable land.

The timing of payments for these schemes will be subject to change as a result of the implementation of the Uniform Start Date requirements. Farmers can find out how their payment timings will be affected and access the Natural England Payment Tool here. Natural England will be writing to all agreement holders to tell them how they will be affected.

The final change that agreement holders need to be aware of is that from 2015 onwards there will be a requirement to submit an agreement claim form. Details of this are still be worked on and agreement holders will be written to in 2015 confirming arrangements.

Countryside Stewardship

The new scheme will be officially launched in spring 2015 and will be open to applicants in July 2015 with applications to be submitted by September 2015 and new schemes starting on 1 January 2016.

Countryside Stewardship will have three main elements:

  • Higher Tier (similar to the current Higher Level Stewardship)
  • Middle Tier (which will replace Entry Level Stewardship)
  • A lower tier of capital grants, including the Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grants.

Entry to all levels of the new scheme will be competitive and all applications will submitted through the new online system.

The Higher Tier is for the most environmentally important sites and woodlands. These will usually be in places that need complex management (such as habitat restoration, woodland creation or tailored measures for priority species). The application process will be similar to the current Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme. Applicants will need to contact Natural England or the Forestry Commission before they can apply for the Higher Tier. It is expected that 90% of existing HLS agreements will be offered the opportunity to go forward to Countryside Stewardship as their agreements come to a close.

The Middle Tier aims to address widespread environmental issues, such as reducing diffuse water pollution or improving the farmed environment for farmland birds and pollinators. Scheme targeting and scoring will encourage applicants to choose options that help achieve the environmental priorities that are important in their wider area. This means that environmental benefits will not just be on individual holdings but more widespread.

The Hedgerows and Boundaries Capital Grant offers funding up to a maximum of £5,000 per applicant for farmers and land managers who don’t have a Higher or Middle Tier agreement or a current ES agreement. These grants will mainly be for small-scale restoration of boundary features, like hedgerows and stone walls. Major restoration projects would be funded under the Higher Tier.

Countryside Stewardship is open to all and, to enable this to happen, a new ‘national targeting framework’ has been set up. This framework provides a picture of Countryside Stewardship priorities across England.
Most applications for Countryside Stewardship will be assessed and scored. To score applications, Natural England will use:

  • The priorities highlighted in the national targeting framework
  • The land management options applicants have chosen on land parcels

The detail of the scoring system is still being developed and information about this will be available in March 2015.

Cross compliance 2015

The new rules were published on 5 December and can be found here.

Not everything has changed. The main changes to GAECs and SMRs since 2014 are listed below. These are just the main changes – claimants should read all of the guidance to make sure they understand all the rules and how they apply to their holding.

  • What was SMR 3 (sewage sludge) and SMRs 13, 14 and 15 (control of foot and mouth disease, certain animal diseases and bluetongue) have been removed.
  • What was GAEC 11 (control of weeds) and 12 (agricultural land which is not in agricultural production) have been removed. Instead, as part of the BPS eligibility rules, this agricultural land will need to be maintained so that it is kept clear of dense scrub.
  • Some rules have been removed from the SMR for Wild Birds (SMR 2).
  • Claimants no longer need to keep a Soil Protection Review (SPR). Instead, there are new rules for soils (GAEC 4, 5 and 6).
  • The rule on sustainable use has been removed from SMR 10 (plant protection products).
  • Under a new GAEC 7, rules for landscape features have changed. Changes to rules include:
    • Boundary features such as hedgerows and stone walls will be covered under GAEC 7a. There will also be new rules for the protection of stone banks and earth banks.
    • A longer no trimming season will apply for hedges and trees, and will run from 1 March until 31 August inclusive. A derogation may be available to those wishing to sow oil seed rape or temporary grassland during August.
    • The exemption which allowed stone to be removed from stone walls to repair footpaths has been deleted.
    • Tree protection rules which include felling licences and tree preservation orders will be included in a new GAEC 7. The no cutting period of 1 March to 31 August inclusive will also apply to trees. Orchards are not included in this ban.
  • The ‘Scheduled Monuments’ GAEC has been renamed ‘Ancient Monuments’.

Remember SPS finishes at the end of 2014; you still need to comply with the current SPS cross compliance rules until that time. Inspections will continue to be carried out in 2014 and inspectors will continue to refer to the current cross compliance rules.

Remember to review and update your Soil Protection Review by 31 December 2014 using the 2014 continuation sheet sent out by Defra earlier this year. Alternatively, the update can be completed online via the electronic proforma here, where you can also access copies of the 2014 continuation sheet.

Remember to keep your completed Soil Protection Review in a safe place as an inspector could still ask you to produce a copy of your SPR post 2014 when SPS has ended and the Soil Protection Review record is no longer part of cross compliance.

Where to get help

Greening has been seen by many farmers as being onerous; for most it will be quite easy to ensure that you comply. It is important that in fulfilling this requirement farmers can really demonstrate best practice environmental management.

The Campaign for the Farmed Environment is a national initiative supported by 14 organisations including the GWCT, LEAF, the NFU and CLA. There are CFE coordinators in every county who are running farm walks, talks and workshops to help with the implementation of greening. The coordinators can also provide initial telephone advice on greening. To find your coordinators, go to

The Farming Advice Service offers advice about the greening rules and cross compliance. For more information call 0345 345 1302 or email The Farming Advice Service also organises events. To see if there are events planned near you, visit

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