ARCHIVE: Set-aside and Environmental Benefits

Advantages and disadvantages of different set-aside types


Non-rotational set-aside is highly suited to management for maximum environmental benefits. In siting such land, proximity to permanent natural features such as woodland and watercourses should be considered, as well as the financial implications. Land next to Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and National Nature Reserves is especially suitable. Headland is another prime option, since it is often low yielding, and inaccessible. This minimises contamination of watercourses (by buffering), and also creates a corridor across a large area for wildlife to roam. Management should be designed to help achieve objectives.

As well as giving the farmer an opportunity to remove poorer quality or less accessible land from production, without economic loss, there are a host of environmental benefits to long term set-aside. Species diversity can be increased by the designation of permanent wildlife corridors, which allow wildlife to pass through the farm (headland set-aside is particularly effective in this respect). The long-term commitment enables habitats to develop slowly and become established.

Special habitats can be created and developed, for particular flora and fauna of interest. If possible, these should be created near or adjacent to permanent natural features such as woodland and marsh. Options such as the reversion of land to low productivity grassland are much more attractive under a long-term management plan, and grazing can improve the diversity of grasslands, by selective predation. There are also options for tree planting and reversion to semi-natural land, and this may improve the aesthetics of the landscape.

Hedges can add significantly to set-aside land especially with respect to wildlife. However, as they take time to establish, benefits from new plantings may only be realised if the set-aside will remain in place for a long period.


Rotational set-aside can offer many environmental benefits especially if it follows cereals and the stubbles are allowed to regenerate over winter to provide feeding grounds for birds. Some bird species e.g. skylarks and lapwing feed during the winter on split cereal grains, insects and dicotyledonous seeds which are abundant in cereal stubbles.

Finches and buntings can benefit greatly from stubble especially that from Barley.

Skylarks may also benefit as they like to exploit the opportunity to nest undisturbed on open land. The cover on rotational set-aside is the perfect height and density during the nesting season.

Leave stubble for as long as possible preferably until after the sawfly larvae has hatched in late March. Sawflies are a major food source for birds. Eggs are laid in grass or crops in late spring.

Rotational set-aside may also prove to be an effective break to reduce the populations of difficult weeds and reduce disease.

Semi-permanent grass cover

Finches and buntings foraging in the field margins and hedgerows can benefit if headland strip set-aside is used as a buffer zone protecting the margin and wildlife habitats.Grassy swards tend to be rich in insects, small mammals and so is a rich food source for owls and kestrels.

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