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The Rural Stewardship Scheme 2005


The Rural Stewardship Scheme

Prescriptions for Wetland features

15. Management of Wetland

Aim: To enhance inbye wetland areas, for birdlife and to encourage botanical diversity that will in turn benefit invertebrates.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Skylark, Otter, Reed bunting, Marsh fritillary, Great crested newt.

Eligible sites: Wetland on inbye land (including salt marsh and reed beds).


Photo: SEPA

Management Requirements:

A rich wetland area with Marsh Marigold

Grazing Regime

  • Option 1 Livestock must be excluded for a period of at least 4 consecutive months between 1 April and 31 August;


  • Option 2 Livestock must be excluded from 1 April to 30 June and grazing in the period from 1 July to 30 September must not exceed 0.3 livestock units per hectare;


  • Option 3 Where the particular conservation interest of the site would not be met by either of the above approaches, a livestock management and grazing regime should be set out in a grazing plan to be agreed with Scottish Ministers.

And, for all options:

  • The Environmental Audit must include a statement to outline the method of control of rank vegetation growth.
  • Grazing or mowing must be in accordance with a plan agreed with Scottish Ministers.
  • No supplementary feeding may occur on the site.

Wetland Management

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water vole

Water vole
Its distribution is generally widespread but very fragmented and localised, mainly due to habitat loss. The Water Vole's main habitats are earth banks alongside open water, ditches and field drains, marshes and wetlands.
Photo: John Robinson

Wetland habitats are critical for a variety of animal and plant species. Wetlands can be permanently wet or, as within a flood plain, periodically immersed. Prescriptions 15-20 support appropriate management of various wetland features and habitats found on farmland.

Wetlands are very important as breeding and feeding areas for waders, particularly where associated with unimproved pasture. Different species of wading bird require differing levels of water. For example, snipe need wet conditions to probe for invertebrates while lapwing will inhabit drier areas. Many other bird species are associated with wetlands. Reed buntings, for example, will nest in a variety of wetland vegetation types including sedges, rushes and other tall, thick vegetation.

Alder, willow and other trees growing around wetlands and watercourses are important in stabilising river banks. Bank erosion can be a problem in livestock farming areas. Once stock are removed, both ground cover and woody vegetation can establish. Native tree planting is appropriate in some instances; while, in others, where more trees would result in excessive shading, it is not.

The agricultural threats to wetlands can be from drainage activities, fertiliser and pesticide application, run-off and grazing livestock in inappropriate numbers or when ground conditions are unsuitable.

Marsh fritillary butterfly

Marsh fritillary butterfly
This butterfly has declined across Europe and Scotland. It is found in extensively grazed grassland with abundant Devil's-bit scabious plants on which the caterpillars feed. The fritillary breeds on damp flower-rich grasslands. Extensive grazing, ideally by cattle, in spring and summer produces an uneven patchwork of short and long vegetation and may be the most suitable management regime for this butterfly
Photo: Butterfly Conservation


  • It is important to bear in mind the conservation benefits this prescription is intended to deliver. Where there may be a problem with the development of woodland or scrub on a particular wetland site, the Environmental Audit should outline the necessary control measures as an additional requirement.
  • Where an alternative management regime is proposed, evidence to support its adoption must accompany the application, for example a letter of support from or a reference to advisory material produced by a recognised conservation organisation.


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Saltmarsh, Urr Water, Solway Firth.
Photo: P&A Macdonald - SNH

Coastal saltmarsh (or 'merse') develops as salt-tolerant plants trap sand, silt and mud deposited by a combination of tide and river. The growth of vegetation on saltmarsh needs to be controlled. Heavy grazing during the early part of the summer will, however, adversely affect the birds breeding on areas of saltmarsh and will reduce the botanical diversity. It may also cause poaching leading to erosion. Late summer grazing will make the area more attractive for over-wintering birds.

Grazing can have a marked effect on the vegetation structure and variety. The aim of any grazing regime for this habitat should be to create variations in sward height and composition. Short turf will provide suitable feeding areas for wigeon and geese whereas taller vegetation will be used as nesting cover by wildfowl and waders such as redshank, as well as a habitat for specialised invertebrates.

Inappropriate grazing levels, turf cutting, realignment of creeks, reclamation drainage and nutrient enrichment are the main threats to this habitat.

16. Management of Lowland Raised Bogs

Aim: To enhance areas of lowland raised bog to promote biodiversity and wetland functions.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Skylark, Baltic bog-moss, Reed bunting, Great crested newt.

Eligible sites: An area of lowland raised bog - an isolated peat deposit averaging over one metre thick that is surrounded by non-peat soils.

Lowland raised bog

Lowland raised bog at Offerance Moss
Photo: L. Gill - SNH

Management Requirements:

A management plan should be prepared which will include the following requirements as appropriate:

  • Block existing ditches at intervals to raise or maintain the water table at or just below the surface of the vegetation (to prevent flooding of sites).
  • Clear encroaching scrub and trees and prevent colonisation.
  • Prepare a grazing plan, as approved by Scottish Ministers, where grazing will improve the condition of the bog habitat.
  • No supplementary feeding may occur on the site.
  • No peat cutting may be carried out without the prior written agreement of Scottish Ministers.
  • No muirburn may be carried out on the site.

Lowland Raised Bog

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Sundew, an insectiverous plant found in bogs
Photo: L. Gill - SNH

Bog mosses

Bog mosses
Photo: L. Gill - SNH

Intact lowland raised bogs are one of Europe's most threatened habitats. They occur in the lowlands of central Scotland. They are recognised by gently sloping domes of peat that have accumulated to a depth of many metres over thousands of years. These peat layers form an invaluable 'environmental archive' of preserved plant and insect remains and pollen. This can yield information relating to ancient landscape and climate changes.

The surface of the bog is raised well above the influence of groundwater so that the vegetation is dependent almost entirely on rain and snow for its source of nutrients. Only plant species specially adapted to live in such waterlogged, nutrient-poor conditions can survive, and this results in a specialised plant community supporting unusual insects. The vegetation is usually dominated by bog mosses, heathers and cotton grasses.

This important habitat is threatened by drainage and water abstraction, commercial-scale peat cutting and artificially introduced nutrients, overstocking and repeated heavy burning. All of these increase the risk of altering the vegetation composition to the detriment of its conservation value and, in extreme cases, may initiate erosion of the peat surface.

17. Creation and Management of Wetland

Aim: To convert arable or improved grassland to wetland by raising water levels. The habitat created will support a range of plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals and provide both feeding and breeding areas.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Skylark, Otter, Reed bunting, Great-crested newt.

Eligible sites: AAPS eligible land or improved grassland where the raised water levels resulting from creation of wetland would not adversely affect other land, cause the erosion of river banks or be liable to cause damage to archaeology.

In most situations, it is anticipated that once wetland or damp conditions are created, there will be natural colonisation by appropriate plant species. Even if there is not a great diversity of species, the wetland site is still liable to be of conservation value - providing a suitable habitat for amphibians, invertebrates and a range of bird species.

Management Requirements:

  • The site must be managed to ensure that it is normally saturated with water for a significant proportion of the year.
  • The site must not be mown or grazed for a period of at least 3 consecutive months between 15 April and 15 August, after which rank growth should be controlled. On fertile sites, where practicable, mowing may be allowed, with disposal of cuttings, between these dates with the prior written agreement of Scottish Ministers.
  • Fertiliser including slurry or farmyard manure must not be applied to the site.
  • Pesticides may be applied only with the prior written agreement of Scottish Ministers.
  • No supplementary feeding may occur on the site.


  • Care should be taken when identifying or approving sites that the action taken to create the damp conditions, e.g. blocking or diverting drains or ditches, only affects the proposed site.
  • The management of water levels may range from highly sophisticated systems involving dams and sluices through to a simple system where the normal water level in an outfall ditch is controlled.
  • Reversion to woodland or domination by a few aggressive species must be prevented. If there is to be no grazing or mowing, there is a possibility that the site may tend to revert to woodland and in such situations, the applicant would have to take steps to remove young trees.