Best Practice Information Sheets (Westcountry Rivers Trust)

Individual crops

Best Practice
Information Sheet

Upland management

IS 2.9.1

Why change?

Uplands are a major agricultural and environmental asset. However, they are fragile and the risk of erosion is very high due to increasing use, together with the climate and their soils. Practice good upland management to protect soils and benefit from:

  • sustainable stock carrying capacity
  • reduced risk of soil erosion
  • conservation of landscape character
  • reduced risk of flooding
  • improved habitats and of quality fisheries.

Steps to success

  1. Review the current situation by examining your management of upland areas. As a first step, consider soil type, slope, the extent of vegetation cover and the nature of traffic, grazing, burning and bracken control.
  2. Identify potential opportunities for improved management of upland areas. If you can identify evidence of soil erosion and runoff, loss of vegetation cover, overgrazing and reduced water and fishery quality you could make simple changes to your farming practices to help save money and protect the environment.
  3. Calculate the cost-benefit of these opportunities by considering the cost of improved management of upland areas versus the cost of any problems identified.
  4. Develop an action plan for improved management of your upland areas:
    • assess the vulnerability of your upland areas. Consider your soils, slopes and rainfall, and your traffic, grazing, burning and bracken management practices
    • manage your upland areas to maintain vegetation cover for soil protection
    • aim to minimise the risks of erosion by upland traffic, including grazing animals, humans and vehicles. For example, use management practices that reduce the need for vehicle use. Consider using ATVs or low tyre pressures; restrict vehicles to dry periods and gentle slopes; and construct tracks in locations that minimise runoff, maintain them and keep to them. Maintain gates, stiles, paths and way markers to restrict the impact of walkers
    • aim to minimise the risks of erosion by overgrazing of stock. For example, shepherd animals to use the entire grazing area and prevent concentrations of stock in small areas. Place feed racks 250m away from sensitive vegetation and on level ground with a cover of coarse grass or dead bracken. Space sites for feed supplement blocks by at least 250m; and encourage vegetation to regenerate by excluding stock from vulnerable or bare areas. Feed racks should be moved on a regular basis to help prevent unsuitable supplementary feeding which on natural or semi-natural vegetation is a breach of GAEC 9
    • plan burning carefully to encourage new growth for grazing and to minimise soil erosion. Favour freely drained, gently sloping ground. Burn in small areas avoiding steep ground, wet blanket bog and deep peat
    • plan your bracken management carefully to minimise soil erosion. Avoid steep slopes and bare areas
    • Seek advice on Defra Environmental Impact Regulations for uncultivated land and semi-natural areas
    • Grant assistance for protecting upland areas may be available through Defra’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ELS and HLS). Having land that lies within an ESA is not a requirement of being accepted to these schemes.
  1. Conserve the unique landscape character and environment of upland areas by maintaining stock-proof walls, hedges and farm buildings and protecting features of historical, archaeological or scientific interest.


Best Farming Practices: Profit from Change

Practical examples

Look out for signs of overgrazing

Signs for unimproved grassland include:

  • a short sward (less than 2cm) with pulled vegetation lying on the surface
  • a reduction in palatable grasses
  • reduced flowering of herbs
  • an increase in coarse grasses
  • an increase in moss cover
  • excessive bare ground
  • an increase in species that are resistant to trampling, such as daisies
  • Unimproved grassland is overgrazed if Bent-Fescue grass is less than 3cm tall and all other vegetation is less than 5cm (GAEC 9).

Signs for heather moorland include:

  • a gradual retreat of heather and dwarf shrubs from the edge of the moor together with an increase in coarse grasses and heath rush
  • a break-up of heather or dwarf shrub cover leading to isolated heather patches or bushes
  • trampled and pulled heather stems lying in the ground surface
  • a lack of regeneration of heather and dwarf shrubs in newly burnt or cut areas.


  • Uplands are more at risk of soil erosion than lowlands due to thinner soils, steeper gradients and higher rainfall. Good upland management that maintains vegetation cover to protect soils is therefore essential.

  • You risk prosecution if soil erosion and runoff from your farm cause water pollution.

  • Grant aid may be available under initiatives such as an Environmental Stewardship Scheme.

  • For further information: Defra (08459 335577), IGER (, ADAS (08457 660085), Environment Agency (08708 506506) and ECSFDI (0800 5874079).


Disclaimer - Whilst the Westcountry Rivers Trust, its servants and agents (the "Trust") will use its reasonable endeavours to ensure the accuracy of its work, its advice involves matters relating to the natural environment or matters outside its reasonable control. Accordingly, other than personal injury or death arising from its negligence, the Trust will not be liable for any loss or damage howsoever arising directly or indirectly from any act, omission, neglect or default on its part. Funding for updating these information sheets was provided by the Water Quality Division of Defra as part of its England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative. These sheets provide practical information, guidance and recommendations for farmers based on Trust experience. © Westcountry rivers trust, 2007.

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