Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Handbook 2013 (NE349)
E Options for buffer strips

Buffer strips, managed as low-intensity grassland, can be used for a wide variety of purposes such as creating new habitats and protecting existing ones, protecting archaeological features and capturing surface water run-off. Although normally sited around the edges of fields, they can also be used within fields, for example to protect a group of in-field trees.

You can use whichever width of buffer strip best suits your field shape, farm machinery and purpose. However, the strip must always be at least the minimum width specified for the particular option. They may exceed the width but any additional area will not be included in the payment area. Generally speaking, wider buffer strips will provide greater protection and improved wildlife habitat.

The options in this section are designed to be used adjacent to existing features on the margins of fields. There are other options available that can serve similar purposes within fields or are designed to protect particular features:

  • EC4 Management of woodland edges
  • EC24 Hedgerow tree buffer strips on cultivated land
  • EC25 Hedgerow tree buffer strips on grassland
  • ED2 Take out of cultivation archaeological features currently on cultivated land
  • EJ5 In-field grass areas to prevent erosion and run-off
  • EJ9 12m buffer strips for watercourses on cultivated land.

See also options for arable land in Section EF for options for cultivated field margins

Where to locate buffer strips
To protect watercourses:
When placed next to a watercourse a buffer strip can help to intercept potential pollutants such as sediment and nutrients transported in surface water run-off. However, take care to minimise any channelling of water along the edge of the buffer strip. On long, steep slopes, buffer strips can be placed across the slope (using option EJ5 In-field grass areas to prevent erosion and run-off) to intercept and slow run-off before it builds to damaging flow.

To benefit wildlife: Buffer strips offer particular benefit to wildlife, if placed adjacent to watercourses, hedgerows (particularly those hedges containing mature hedgerow trees), stone walls, remnant boundary tree lines, groups of in-field trees and woodland edge strips. They may also be used to create habitat and to form links between areas of wildlife habitat. On intensive grassland, buffer strips managed as uncut margins in meadows are likely to provide the greatest benefits for wildlife as the longer vegetation that develops provides habitat for insects and small mammals.

To protect archaeological features: Buffer strips can be used to protect above-ground archaeology and other historic features, such as historic buildings, and metal parkland fencing. Below-ground archaeological features can be protected using the option ED2 Take out of cultivation archaeological features currently on cultivated land. Consider the impact on the local landscape character when deciding on the width, extent and location of buffer strips.

Other considerations
Buffer strip options in ELS must not overlap with:

  • the cross compliance requirement not to cultivate land within 2 m of the centre of a hedgerow or watercourse (and within 1 m of the top of the bank of a watercourse);
  • any other buffer strips or uncultivated strips required under other ELS options, such as ELS options for field boundaries, trees and woodland;
  • public rights of way (eg footpaths or bridleways) along field edges; or
  • a 6 m strip adjacent to any watercourse on land covered by the Uplands ELS compulsory requirement UX2. (This is because UX2 prohibits the application of fertilisers and herbicides adjacent to watercourses.)

You must start your ELS buffer strip options where your other uncultivated land ends (ie 2 m from the centre of a hedge or ditch, and at least 1 m from the top of a ditch bank).

If you are locating your ELS buffer strip next to a hedge that extends further than 2 m from the centreline of the hedge, it is acceptable for part of your ELS buffer strip to be covered by the hedge, provided the land would otherwise be eligible as a buffer strip. You may establish 2 m or 4 m ELS buffer strips alongside 2 m Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) grass margins, but you must not establish any ELS buffer strip options alongside 6 m CSS grass margins.

Buffer strips that have already been established are eligible if their management is not being paid for under another scheme. However, a buffer strip must be located on land that could, in practice, be cultivated (so for example very steeply banked strips alongside boundaries are not eligible). Buffer strips established under a previous ELS agreement can continue to be managed within ELS under a renewed agreement.

For land that is part of an arable/grass ley rotation, you must manage land in buffer strip options EE1EE3 or EE9 according to the prescriptions of options EE4–EE6 or EE10 during the years when the buffer strips are adjacent to a temporary grass ley.

How to record buffer strip measurements
On your application form, you must enter the amount of each buffer strip option as an area measurement in ha for each field. This will give you a figure, which you will need in order to complete your SPS return. It will also help you to work out the remaining field area available for other uses, for example cropping or other ELS options.

How to calculate the area of buffer strip options
You may find it helpful to use the following worksheet to record how you have calculated the area of each buffer strip option in each of your fields. This can also be used for options EC4 Management of woodland edges; EC24 and EC25 Hedgerow tree buffer strips on cultivated land or grassland and EJ9 12 m buffer strips for watercourses on cultivated land.

For each buffer strip, measure the length of the option in metres, and convert this to ha (to the nearest 0.01 ha (100 m2)).

Table 4 How to calculate the area of buffer strip options

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
RLR field no Option code Option description Width (m) Length (m) Area in m2 (width x length) Area in ha (divide area in m2 by 10,000) Area in ha to the nearest 0.01 ha
XY23456789 EE3 6 m buffer strips on cultivated land 6 238 (6 x 238) 1428 0.1428 0.14
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