GS5: Permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs

Find out about eligibility and requirements for the permanent grassland with very low inputs in SDAs option.

How much will be paid

£71£151 per hectare (ha)

Where to use this option

  • Available for Countryside Stewardship Mid-TierMid Tier and Higher-TierHigher Tier

  • Whole parcel (except when located with GS1)

  • Only on:

    • permanent grassland within severely disadvantaged areas (SDAs) and below the moorland line

This option can only be used if one of the following criteria are met.

  • The grassland qualifies as semi-improved (see Permanent grassland options eligibility assessment form)
  • To help the sustainable management and buffering of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) or priority habitats
  • To maintain grassland to conserve species of national or regional importance, or protect historic or archaeological features
  • When in-field scrub cover is less than 1% and the option will be used in target areas for ground-nesting wading birds
  • On parcels adjacent to a permanent watercourse

Where this option cannot be used

  • Part parcel (except when located with GS1).

Features that can be included in this option

The following features can be included if they are part of the land, even if they are ineligible for the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

  • Ditches, dykes, drains, rivers, streams that are less than 4 metres (m) wide for the majority of their length in the parcel
  • Temporary water
  • Permanent water up to 0.1ha
  • Natural unsurfaced roads, tracks, paths and bridleways, as long as the requirements below can be met
  • Bracken
  • Areas of scree, rock outcrops and boulders - each area can cover up to 0.1ha
  • Grazed woodland and scrub that allows livestock access and has grass underneath

Related Mid-TierMid Tier options

These options and supplements can be located on the same area as this option.

How this option will benefit the environment

Flowering grass and wildflowers, and a varied sward structure will provide nectar food and shelter for invertebrates. The grassland habitat will attract increased numbers of ground-nesting and feeding birds, particularly waders such as lapwing and snipe.


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 and early summer, the grassland will have a good cover of flowering grass and wildflower species and may also contain scattered areas of scrub and/or rushes. Grazing or cutting will ensure a variety of plant heights. Bare ground will be very limited.

By autumn, the sward will vary in height with tussocks of grass, and some grasses and wildflowers will be allowed to go to seed.

Any archaeological or historic features will be protected under a grass and wildflower cover, with a low cover of scrub, bracken or bare ground, and no damage incurred due to machinery use.

Prohibited activities

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

  • undertake any mechanical operations (including hay/silage cutting) between 15 March and 30 June, or allow activities outside these dates that disturb breeding birds, including ground nesting birds and their chicks
  • cut rushes between 15 March and 31 July
  • plough, cultivate or re-seed
  • use pesticides, except for herbicides to spot-treat or weed-wipe to control nettles, bracken, injurious weeds or invasive non-native species
  • cut more than one-half of scrub in any one year, except on historic and archaeological features
  • use supplementary feed except for mineral blocks
  • carry out drainage works, including modifying existing drainage, without having Natural England’s written permission before work starts
  • apply more than 12 tonnes per ha of farmyard manure, or apply more than the following amounts of fertiliser as an alternative to farmyard manure. Applications of fertiliser or manure must not be increased if the current rate is less than:
    • 9 kg/ha nitrogen
    • 23 kg/ha phosphate
    • 83 kg/ha potassium
  • apply fertiliser between 15 March and 30 June
  • harrow or roll on historic or archaeological features
  • apply paper waste or other industrial by-products

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

Recommended management

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:

  • graze or cut for hay or silage
  • remove any cuttings
  • maintain a sward with a range of heights during the growing season so that at least 20% is less than 7 centimetres (cm) and 20% is more than 7cm. No height variation needs to be maintained when the field is closed up for a cut of hay or silage.
  • maintain soil above pH 5.4 by liming, if necessary to promote a range of grasses and wild flowers, but not if, the target is to maintain acid grassland.
  • graze or cut areas of dense rush growth so that stands of soft or hard rush cover 20% or less of the parcel area and are less than 20cm high by 30 September
  • keep areas of well-established scrub in separate small patches, lines and occasional individual bushes across the site where scrub cover is less than 5%
  • maintain between 5% and 10% scrub coverage in parcel areas where cover is equal to or above 5%
  • control areas where bracken is present so that the area does not increase
  • maintain areas covered by dwarf shrub
  • prevent the spread of scrub and bracken on historic and archaeological features
  • check for breeding birds before operating machinery or carrying out other activities which may disturb breeding birds or damage their nests. The breeding season tends to run from mid-March until mid-July, but it can start earlier and finish later, depending on the species and the weather.

You should not:

  • allow bare ground in the form of small, well-distributed areas to cover more than 5% of the option area
  • allow bare ground to develop on historic or archaeological features
  • allow more than 5 square metres of localised patches of bare ground around rabbit warrens by year 2

Keeping records

Where there’s 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.

  • Receipted invoices, consents or permissions connected with the work
  • Field operations at the parcel level, including associated invoices
  • a standard soil analysis carried out in the last 5 years, including analysis of organic matter by loss on ignition. The rules for farmers and land managers to prevent water pollution already require farmers and land managers to carry out soil testing on cultivated agricultural land and such test results may be used to meet the record-keeping requirements for this option.
  • Permanent grassland eligibility assessment form  (You do not have to use this form. You can use your own document if it gives enough information to meet the requirements.)

At the start of each claim year, a percentage of agreement holders will be asked to take and submit the following photographic evidence:

  • Photographs of the management undertaken

Additional guidance and advice

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

Choose the right location

Grassland which contains rare plant species is clearly valuable. It can still be valuable, and suited to this option, if it has a range of commoner herbs or dwarf shrubs such as red clover, yarrow, self heal, heather and bilberry.

Low input grassland is most valuable when located alongside other important landscape features such as scrub and wetlands in a mosaic approach.

Grassland is also the best protection for historic and archaeological features, as long as plants with powerful roots like scrub or bracken do not take hold, and bare ground does not develop.

Managing the sward

The land will be more valuable for insects, birds and other animals if it has a varied, patchy structure all year round. It is much easier to achieve this structure by grazing with cattle than by grazing with sheep only, which may fail to achieve the varied sward height and structure that is required.

Wet areas can be important sources of insect food and should be maintained where possible.

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 moreCountryside informationStewardship: aboutget Countrysidefunding Stewardshipto Midprotect Tier and Higherimprove Tierthe land you manage to find out more information about theMid schemeTier and Higher Tier including how to apply.

Published 2 April 2015
Last updated 2026 SeptemberMay 20222023 + show all updates
  1. Increase in payment rate to £151 per hectare.

  2. amendment to Prohibited activities section

  3. New payment rate from 1 January 2022.

  4. 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.

  5. 'Air quality' added to Land use.

  6. Option updated for agreements starting 1 January 2022

  7. Same bullet as below also updated to standardise soil testing information.

  8. Under heading “Keeping records”, 3rd bullet about soil analysis corrected to remove “… including analysis of organic matter by loss on ignition.”

  9. Updated for 2017 applications.

  10. Removed 'Do not apply fertiliser or manure in years when the parcel is not cut for hay, haylage or silage' from Requirements section.

  11. Information updated for applications in 2016.

  12. First published.