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Water Margins and Enhanced Riparian Buffer Areas

Option closed to new applications


The aim of this Option is to protect water margins from erosion and diffuse pollution, whilst encouraging the development of waterside vegetation that stabilises the banks and enhances biodiversity.

What this will achieve

A managed, established, vegetated and unfertilised grass/woodland buffer alongside watercourses enhances biodiversity and encourages the following of a natural course, which contributes to flood control and improves water quality.

Riparian buffer areas can reduce diffuse pollution by distancing agricultural activity from the riparian area thus reducing the risk of direct pollution from applied fertilisers and by intercepting overland water flow to watercourses and acting as a sediment trap to reduce sediment from adjacent fields and nutrient losses to watercourses.

This Option will also help to reduce the risk of diffuse pollution caused by faecal contamination of water bodies and watercourses by farm livestock.

Some Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species that may benefit include: Water Vole, Otter, Pipistrelle Bat, Marsh Fritillary and Freshwater Pearl Mussel.

What you can do


Water margins will comprise either land bordering still water or land bordering a watercourse; and

  • for a site bordering still water, the water margin must be between 12m and 24m wide.
  • for a site bordering a watercourse with a bed width of less than 1.2m, the water margin must be at least 3m wide on any side and the overall width of the margin at least 5 times the bed width of the watercourse. The maximum width of the water margin is 12m on any one side.
  • for a site bordering a watercourse with a bed width equal to or greater than 1.2m, the minimum width of the water margin is 6m on any one side and the maximum width is 12m wide on any one side.

On sites with steep ground or existing semi-natural habitat, the water margin width may be extended to 20m. This will provide an enhanced buffer to intercept run-off and allow you to graze the site more easily.

You will provide a Management Plan which describes the existing vegetation and which outlines your management objectives and how you will achieve them. You may choose to deliver both of the key objectives - to enhance biodiversity and to reduce diffuse pollution or to focus on one of them. The current land use and the type of vegetation on the site will influence your choice. Trees may be planted to enhance the riparian habitat.


1. To enhance biodiversity interest

This Option is designed for sites with existing semi-natural vegetation; species-rich grassland, fens and riparian woodland.

On sites with species-rich grassland, very occasional, light grazing will maintain a sward at a range of heights, to benefit a wide variety of plants and invertebrates. You will avoid poaching the ground as it can damage banks and encourage erosion and the establishment of invasive weeds. In order to control rank, tussocky growth and to maintain a close, even sward, graze in late summer/early autumn to reduce the sward height to between 10 and 15 cm. The ideal sward structure is described in Scottish Natural Heritage's booklet 'Grassland for plants and animals'. www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/heritagemanagement/Grasslandanimplant.pdf

Other sites, including woodland and some fen sites, may require less or zero grazing. The ideal sward structure for fen sites is described in Scottish Natural Heritage's guidance 'Fens for plants and animals'. The management plan must identify the grassland or fen types present and the most appropriate grazing regime for them in accordance with published guidance.

2. To reduce diffuse pollution

This Option is suitable for arable land or improved grassland or species-poor grassland on sites that are identified as a high priority in a diffuse pollution mitigation plan.

To provide an effective sediment trap in winter, ensure the soil surface in the buffer area is covered with dense plant cover in the winter months. You will control rank, or tussocky growth to maintain a close, even sward, either by light grazing as in Option 1. above or by mowing to reduce the sward height to between 10 to 15 cm in late Summer/early Autumn. Two cuts may be required to control rank growth. Remove cuttings from the site. Mowing may not control invasive or nuisance species. If they are growing in the buffer area you may need to consider an alternative method of management in the first instance. Where the particular conservation interest of the site would not be met by this approach, an alternative management plan will be agreed with Scottish Ministers.

In both cases:

  • you must control grazing to avoid poaching and avoid damage to river and loch banks
  • farm livestock must have access to adjacent field(s) whilst grazing the buffer area
  • do not apply lime or fertilisers, including slurry or farmyard manure to the water margin
  • do not apply pesticides in or near the water margin except for herbicides which may be applied in consultation with SEPA and with prior written agreement of the Scottish Ministers for activities such as spot treatment of injurious weeds or control of invasive non-native species
  • do not cultivate the area
  • do not clear existing drains or cut new drains
  • do not modify or reinforce the river or loch banks
  • where farm livestock are prevented from accessing traditional watering places by the water margin Option, you can apply to install water troughs, the cost of which can be supported as a capital item. Alternatively, an access point can be fenced off separately from the water margin, but not through the buffer area
  • do not provide supplementary feeding on the buffer area
  • where planting small trees to extend or enhance the habitat, use native species, of local origin. Avoid excess shading of the water.

Who can apply (including geographical element)

All land managers are eligible to apply for this Option.

Eligibility criteria

You can enter in-bye land which borders still water or a watercourse, which:

  1. supports species rich grassland, fen communities (dominated by sedges, rushes, reeds or meadowsweet) or riparian woodland, or
  2. borders improved grassland or arable land.

For 1 choose management that will maintain or enhance the existing natural heritage interest.

For 2 sites with low natural heritage interest are eligible where there is the potential to reduce diffuse pollution. (Only appropriate sites identified as high priority in a diffuse pollution mitigation plan will be eligible for this Option.)

To maximise the effect of the buffer area, choose locations in low lying areas where surface water flow is slow and not concentrated into channels. Grazing should be light to control rank growth, without poaching the surface or damaging the banks.

Bring field drains and culverts to the surface to form wet areas within riparian buffers. This ensures that nutrients applied to fields adjacent to the buffer do not drain directly into the watercourse.

Land receiving payments for similar management under other agri-environment schemes is not eligible under this Option.

Please see the Definitions of Land Types page for more details.

What costs could be supported

For a comprehensive list of Capital Items click here. Any cost claimed must be fully justified. The following are examples of what may be claimed:

When completing your Proposal, you can select the appropriate capital item(s) from the dropdown list of standard cost capital items for this Option.

In addition to the above capital items, financial support of up to 100% of eligible actual costs is available in respect of the following:

Please note that these capital items will not appear in the dropdown list of Standard Cost capital items for this Option and will need to be entered manually in the box for Actual Cost capital items. Only costs for the types of capital works listed above should be entered in the Actual Cost capital items box for this Option. Any other costs entered cannot be considered for funding.

To ensure value for money we require you to provide 2 competitive quotes for any capital items applied for which are based on actual cost. If, however, you are seeking grant support towards something so specialised it is only available through 1 source then we would accept 1 quote. Please see the guidance on quotes and estimates for more information.

Rate of support

This is a 5-year commitment. We will pay you £286.63 per hectare of land managed under this Option per year. We will pay at the end of each year.


The inspector will check the requirements (as detailed above under 'what you can do') of the Option are being met, by a visual assessment on the day of inspection.

Beneficiaries must comply with the requirements of cross compliance and the minimum requirements for fertiliser and plant protection products. You must also comply with the requirements to avoid damaging any features of historic or archaeological interest, and follow Scottish Ministers' guidance for the protection of such areas or features (detailed in links below).

The following is a brief overview of the inspection procedures, for a full explanation please see links below:

Inspectors will check:

  • Compliance with agreed management plan, including the width of the water margin
  • Land is in-bye
  • No poaching or supplementary feeding has occurred and livestock have access to adjacent fields
  • No cultivations have occurred
  • Visual check to ensure no fertiliser/ FYM/Slurry/lime has been applied to the site
  • Pesticide records to ensure pesticides have not been applied to the site without prior written approval from Scottish Ministers
  • Existing drains have not been cleared or new ones created
  • River or loch banks have not been modified or reinforced
  • No excessive over shading of margins by trees
  • Any small trees that have been planted are of native local origin
  • Claimed capital items have been completed to approved amounts and scheme standards

List of links to relevant technical guidance