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Farmers must ensure land is kept in good agricultural and environmental condition


Good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC)

To receive the single farm payment farmers must comply (known as cross-compliance) with the two main conditions.  Firstly, Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) which aim to protect public, plant and animal health, the environment and the welfare of animals and secondly, Good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) standards where farmers are required to maintain soils, habitats and landscape features.  Farmers will be inspected to check that they are meeting these standards, and breaches may result in sanctions being imposed.  A review of CAP is taking place in 2008 to make the single farm payment more effective, it is likely that the SMRs and GAEC will be amended as a result of this review. CLICK HERE for more information on the CAP 'Health check'.

Protection and maintenance of soil

As part of the GAEC standards farmers must manage agricultural soils in order to protect them from soil erosion, and to maintain soil organic matter and soil structure.  In order to receive single farm payments farmers must now carry out a Soil Protection Review (SPR) which should be updated each year.   CLICK HERE for further information on soil management.


The current controls on overgrazing semi natural vegetation, which require an assessment of the condition of vegetation, will be retained. Where there is evidence of current damage, limits on stocking rates will be advised, and if necessary imposed, to prevent further damage. The existing supplementary feeding rules will also be re-enacted. See WWF report which sites over grazing as a substantial problem in some areas of the UK

Stone walls

Farmers will not be permitted to remove or damage stonewalls, without consent from the relevant authority - which may be granted where there are particular extenuating circumstances.  Stonewalls as habitat!


Trimming of farm hedgerows must not be carried out during the period 1 March to 31 July. A derogation will be possible for health and safety aspects, particularly for hedges next to roadsides and access ways. For information on good hedgerow management for wildlife see the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group website

Pause for thought......Why are hedgerows seen as such an important part of the countryside and why are the cutting dates restricted. Will this have any serious implications for farm practices?

Permanent pasture

Permanent pasture is defined by the Commission as land that has been under grass for at least 5 years and has not been ploughed for other crops in that time.  At the moment individual farmers are not required to maintain their area of permanent pasture as part of cross-compliance, although they may be required to do so in the future.  A control mechanism has to be put in place to ensure that the national area of permanent pasture is not reduced by more than 5% of the total area of agricultural land - to meet the EU Regulations. Afforestation of permanent pasture that is "compatible with the environment" is exempt from this requirement providing it has been assessed under the existing Forestry EIA Regulations.  See overview of Grassland types.

Land not wholly in agricultural production

Farmers are required to ensure that land no longer in production remains classed as agricultural land under the SP. This means for example that scrub invasion must be easily removed and notifiable weeds controlled, so that the land would be capable of being returned to production by the next growing season at the latest. The land must also be in a condition where an inspector could easily identify the eligible land and undertake normal control activity.  With the temporary suspension of the requirement for farmers to 'set-aside' land in order to receive the SP (the rate for 2008 is set at 0%) any land not cropped has to comply with GAEC standards (the rules for managing set-aside are slightly different).


Farmers must take measure to stop the spread of injurious and invasive weed species.  These include species such as Spear Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), Common ragwort (Senecio jacobea) and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum).

Protection of landscape features - supporting existing legislation

Farmers will be required to comply with existing legislation that protects a diverse range of habitats and landscape features, including Tree Preservation Orders, Hedgerows Regulations, Environmental Impact Assessment, Scheduled Monuments Legislation, SSSI legislation under Wildlife and Countryside Act, Heather and Grass Burning Regulations and the Forestry Act.

Hedge and watercourse protection measures

Farmers are required to establish a protection zone in fields along hedges and water courses. This must not be cultivated or have fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides applied. It must measure 2 metres from centre of a hedge or ditch, with a minimum of 1m from the top of the ditch bank.

bulletThis measure will only target key habitats (watercourses and hedges)
bulletThe measure will not apply to small fields (2 hectares or less) or to newly planted hedgerows (up to 5 years old).
Rights of way

Farmers must not obstruct or disturb the surface of the path of a public right of way which runs across their land (however farmers may plough the path of a right of way so long as the path is reinstated within any prescribed time limit); and must maintain any stile or gate for which they are responsible that is on the path of a public Right of Way. See details of the CROW Act.

Moorland measures

Farmers must comply with the Heather and Grass (Burning) Regulations


Pause for thought......The issue of public access to farm land continues to be a contentious issue. Suggest five reasons why many farmers are against increased access? What arguments could be used to support public access to what in many cases is privately owned farm land?




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