How to do the actions in the improved grassland soils standard - GOV.UK

2022-06-25 04:11:55 By : Mr. YUAN WU

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Advice for farmers on how to complete the actions in the improved grassland soils standard of the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI).

As we explain in the improved grassland soils standard, it’s up to you how you complete the actions.

This ‘How to’ guide gives advice about how you could complete the actions in this standard.  You may find it helpful to read this guide, but you don’t have to follow it.  It covers how to:

To complete a soil assessment, you’ll usually need to:

Try to assess the soil and take soil samples when it is not too dry or wet. Spring or autumn are usually the best time of year to complete a soil assessment.

The main soil types are:

You can find out more about these soil types in the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) information about the characteristics of different soils.

To check the soil type, you can search for your location in the Soilscapes soil types viewer produced by the National Soil Resources Institute of Cranfield University.

Soil texture depends on the mix of sand, silt and clay in the soil.

You can read Natural England’s Technical Information Note about soil texture, which includes the main soil texture types and what you’re likely to feel and see for each texture class.

Soil structure affects how air and water move in the soil and how well crops and grass can grow.

You can choose how you assess soil structure. To do this, you can:

The information on checking regulatory issues and consents explains that you must get consent from Historic England if you plan to take soil samples on an area containing a scheduled monument. The consent form tells you what depth the soil samples can be.

It may save time if you assess soil structure when you test soil organic matter.

Soil biology includes the presence of earthworms and other visible creatures, soil organic matter and microorganisms.

You can use a soil sample to count earthworms and other visible creatures, such as millipedes and spiders. To do this, you can use the same soil samples taken to assess soil structure and soil organic matter (action 2) or dig another pit.

The soil organic matter testing you do under action 2 will tell you about the soil organic matter.

Microorganisms can be quite difficult to assess yourself, but if you’d like to find out more you can ask a commercial laboratory to test soil samples for this.

To find out more about soil biology, you can read the AHDB factsheet: An introduction to Soil Biology.

You can assess the risks relating to soil from:

Once you’ve assessed these risks you can make an overall assessment of the risk for your land.

You can follow the steps below to assess risks to your soil.

Runoff occurs when there is more water than land can absorb, meaning that water drains away directly over the surface of land.  This can carry fine soil particles, nutrients, pesticides and manures to water bodies, such as ponds, lakes, ditches, stream and rivers.  This can cause pollution and potentially harm animals and plants that live in the water bodies.

Runoff can wash material directly from a land parcel into a water body. It can also travel in other ways, such as:

To assess the risk of runoff and soil erosion, you can consider:

You can choose how to measure the gradient of a slope. For example, you could use a clinometer.

The risk of runoff is:

After you’ve assessed the risk of runoff for each land parcel based on the gradient of the slope, you can adjust the runoff and erosion risk assessment to reflect:

For example, lighter soils on moderate slopes have a high risk of runoff. Land that regularly floods (at least once every 3 years) has a high risk of erosion or runoff.

The risk of runoff may be less significant if the land parcel is not close or well connected to a water body, such as a pond, lake, ditch, stream or river. You can assess the risk of runoff based on how close the land parcel is to a water body.

The risk of runoff is:

You can then refine the risk assessment for each land parcel based on the history of runoff and ponding. The risk of runoff is:

Once you’ve considered the risks above, you can use your experience and judgement to adjust the level of risk for each land parcel, taking into account additional factors such as:

Wind erosion is most likely on fine sandy soils and light peaty soils. It will be worse in dry conditions or where there is drainage, bare land or fine dry seedbeds.

Signs of wind erosion include drifting soil, buried seedlings, and soil blown into hedgerows, ditches and onto nearby roads.

If there are fine sandy soils or light peaty soils and wind erosion occurs at least once every 3 years, identify this area as high risk in your soil assessment. If there are chalk or limestone soils, the risk is likely to be moderate. Other soil types are likely to be lower risk.

Light sandy and shallow soils are less able to store nitrogen. It can be easily lost as water filters through the soil. If you have land parcels with this type of soil where you add nitrogen-based fertilisers, identify this as being at risk of nitrogen leaching.

Once you’ve assessed all the risks above, and made any adjustments you judge are relevant, you can make your overall risk assessment for your land. You can do this by classifying the overall risks as very high, high, moderate or lower. For example:

You can use your soil assessment to record information in your soil management plan. This will help you plan how to manage your land parcels to improve soil health and reduce the risks you identified in your soil assessment.

You can record information in your plan for each land parcel or area where the soils and slopes differ, as identified during your soil assessment. The information you record in your soil management plan could include:

Championing the Farmed Environment (CFE) has produced some helpful guides about managing soils for a range of farming systems which may help with your proposed management actions to improve soil health.

If you have land with known historic or archaeological features, you can record these in your plan. This will inform how you manage land above and around these features.

You can find out about any known historic or archaeological features when you apply for SFI. If you select a land parcel in your SFI application that contains a scheduled monument, historic or archaeological feature, you’ll be told that you need to request an SFI Historic Environment Farm Environment Record (SFI HEFER).

You can choose how to record a soil management plan. For example, you could use a map or spreadsheet to record the information. You can choose to record the plan on paper or digitally.

This table is an example of how you could choose to record a soil management plan.

The arable and horticultural soils standard requires that you review your soil management plan each year, update it to take account of:

Other information about assessing your soil is available. This includes:

Testing soil organic matter will help you assess the health of your soil. To do this, you can:

Before you take soil samples, you’ll need to select your sample areas. A sample area is an area of land where you’ll take soil samples.

When you select sample areas, try to choose areas which have:

If the soil type and past management is similar, you can take account of the size of the land parcels:

The improved grassland soils standard requires that during your 3-year SFI standards agreement, each land parcel has been tested for soil organic matter within the last 5 years. Make sure you meet this requirement of the standard if you combine a number of small land parcels into a single sample area. For example, the overall combined area could include samples from each land parcel.

You may find it easier to take soil samples in the spring or autumn, before you cultivate the land. This will also avoid damaging the crop.

It is advisable to avoid taking soil samples if:

You can take multiple soil samples on each sample area and combine them into a single sample that represents the soil across each sample area.

You can choose how many soil samples you take in each sample area, but try to take enough to gain a good understanding of the soil organic matter across each sample area.

Avoid taking soil samples on areas of land where:

To get a representative sample of the sample area you’re testing, aim to take cores up to a depth of around 15cm (6 inches).

The information on checking regulatory issues and consents explains that you must get consent from Historic England if you plan to take soil samples on an area containing a scheduled monument. The consent form tells you what depth the soil samples can be.

You can follow these steps to take soil samples for soil organic matter:

Walk a ‘W’ pattern across the sample area, with 5-7 stops along each leg of the ‘W’.

This will give you around 25 soil samples across the sample area.

Combine the soil samples in a clean plastic bag, to form one bulk sample of about 0.5kg.

If you want to assess the soil structure and soil biology (for action 1), at 5 to 10 stops across the whole ‘W’ you can:

You can also assess the subsoil structure at 3 of the stops, one of which should be on a headland.

You may find it helpful to read the AHDB guidance about how to collect a soil sample.

The image below shows how you can walk a ‘W’ and take soil samples across a sample area.

If you have the right equipment and expertise, you can test the soil samples yourself. However, sending your soil samples to a commercial laboratory will usually give more accurate results. You can find a list of laboratories where you can send your soil samples on the AHDB website.

Try to use the same laboratory and method of testing if you are repeating the tests over a number of years.  Having a consistent approach will help you see how the soil organic matter is increasing or decreasing over time.

If you use a laboratory, you can ask them to test organic matter content by using the:

There are various ways you can minimise bare ground, including:

To ensure early establishment of reseeded grassland, you can cultivate the land parcel in the spring and summer rather than autumn.

Reseeding grassland in the spring will usually mean there are better conditions for the grass to establish, with sufficient soil moisture to support germination of the grass seeds.

Before reseeding, you may choose to address any subsoil compaction or surface capping.

You may find it helpful to read the AHDB’s guidance about grassland reseeding.

To prevent livestock poaching wet ground, you can move them regularly or reduce the number of livestock grazing an area of land.

You may find it helpful to read AHDB’s tips for on/off grazing to avoid poaching tips for on/off grazing to avoid poaching.

You can move supplementary feeders and water troughs regularly to avoid localised poaching by livestock. If there are historic features identified on your SFI HEFER, you can try to supplementary feed at least 6m away from those features, where possible.

You can also try to make sure that farm vehicles use established tracks.

The correct seed mix is vital to growing a high-quality herbal ley. Your seed supplier can help you choose a seed mix that is the best match for our land, local conditions and how you’ll manage the ley.

You can choose what mix of grasses, legumes and herbs to use in the herbal ley. A high-quality herbal ley will usually include at least:

Avoid festulolium and perennial ryegrass combined making up more than 70% by weight of the total seed mix.

The improved grassland soils standard requires that you don’t establish herbal leys on any area that is a site of special scientific interest, or historic or archaeological features identified on your SFI HEFER.

You can maintain herbal leys by:

Between the start of May and the end of July, you can rest the herbal leys from cutting and grazing for a period of at least 5 weeks. This allows the flowers to open and provide a source of pollen and nectar for insects.

It can take up to 4 years for the roots to grow enough to improve soil structure and fertility.

Added information on taking soil samples on a scheduled monument

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