During the autumn months of October to December, there are three main areas to consider for your Entry Level Stewardship agreement options.
On land growing maize, even if you haven’t entered into an ELS maize option (EJ2) (EJ10), the following actions can help reduce run off and soil erosion. Harvest the crop by 1 October and dependant on which management option has been chosen, you can do one or more of the following:
Remove any areas of soil compaction
Plough or cultivate to leave a rough surface, ideally within two weeks of harvest to reduce subsequent soil erosion
Establish an autumn sown crop
Establish an autumn sown cover crop such as barley or mustard
The early harvesting date will mean machinery going onto generally drier ground/soils therefore reducing any soil erosion and the likelihood of compaction. Furthermore, establishing a crop will protect soils that would otherwise be left bare and susceptible to run off.
Establish a winter cover crop by drilling or broadcasting by 15 September, suitable crops should be quick growing such as barley or mustard. The cover crops should be sown at a seed rate which will provide a dense cover and protect from any soil erosion – no fertiliser or manure should be applied to the crop. By sowing a winter cover crop, soil erosion can be reduced and nutrients captured that would otherwise be lost from the farm, helping to keep waterways clean and benefit species such as the otter and the water vole.
Establishing these crops early is essential for them to be effective as they can take up soil nitrate before winter sets in and leaches nitrate below the depth of the developing roots. The crop will also help reduce any nitrate leaching on land where soil would have been left bare normally over winter.
There are 2 choices to establishing a skylark plot, by turning off the drill during sowing to leave an unsown plot or by sowing a winter cereal crop as normal and spraying out the plot by 31 December with a suitable herbicide. It is important to remember (whichever method used) that plots should be established in the following locations and requirements:
Field larger than 5ha
Open aspect field
Field drilled with winter cereals
Avoid fields with tree line boundaries or adjacent to woods
Locate plots away from tramlines o Minimum density of two plots per hectare
Plots should be at least 3m wide and with a minimum area of 16 square metres.
The rough plots with low vegetation in large open arable fields provide suitable nesting conditions for the skylark throughout their breeding season which extends from April to August. The numbers of breeding skylark has halved since the mid 1970’s and therefore providing this specific nesting habitat will be important to their continued survival.
This upland management option aims to improve water quality by removing livestock from 1 December to 15 March on land which drains into a watercourse such as a stream, river or lake. The option also restricts the spreading of fertiliser and manures between these dates.
The option is equally best practice for many lowland farms where reducing farm inputs and removing livestock on ground susceptible to water-logging/poaching or compaction in the autumn/winter months will ultimately reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment likely to get into watercourses. This should provide cleaner waterways which will benefit species such as the brown trout.
This management will also protect archaeological features which may be at risk from soil erosion. Poaching, winter supplementary feeding and rutted areas cause damage to above and below ground features.