The Department of Agriculture has started calculating the total non-productive areas and landscape features on farms.

These areas are being classified under the heading ‘Space for Nature’ under the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 document, which has been submitted to the EU Commission for approval.

Another new term, ‘Conditionality’, replaces cross compliance and sets a target of every farmer being required to have at least 4% of their holding dedicated to space for nature under measure 8, Good Agricultural and Environment Condition, what is normally known as GAEC 8. The GAEC standards are statutory requirements and must be adhered to.

The Department has stated that it has started calculating the Space for Nature area on all 130,000 farms registered and said it intends to provide an estimate of the percentage of such lands present on holdings to farmers and their advisers in quarter three of 2022.

The Department’s intention is to present farmers with an accurate percentage of areas defined under the heading ‘Space for Nature’ when the CAP Area Based Application system opens in February 2023.

Eco scheme considerations

This information will be essential for farmers in taking steps to ensure they satisfy GAEC 8 requirements and also for those participating in the eco scheme to select measures.

The proposed eco scheme measures plan to reward farmers for additional areas above the minimum 4% of Space for Nature areas.

Under the eco scheme Space for Nature measure, if a farmer has a minimum of 7% of such lands, it will satisfy the requirement for one of the two eco scheme measures farmers participating in the scheme must undertake.

Where farmers have a minimum of 10% of their land area classified as Space for Nature, it will count as completing two eco scheme measures.

Qualifying features

Lands lying fallow will be included under the 4% Non-Productive (NPFs) Features classification, but the CAP document outlines that field margins will not be considered at this time for calculation of the 5% NPF and areas.

The CAP document outlines examples of NPFs and also states whether these NPFs are designated as a landscape feature for retention.

NPFs not designated as a landscape feature may be removed, but there are certain criteria that come with this designation, as outlined below.

Cultural features

The document states: “In Ireland’s case, cultural features under GAEC 8 are archaeological features. Archaeological features are areas or features of archaeological interest protected on farms which enhance the visual landscape. They are also designated as landscape features.”


A drain/ditch is described as an open trench which is dug to improve the drainage of agricultural land. It may be linked directly or indirectly, through other drains, to a stream or river which passes through or alongside the holding.

Ditches and drains are classified as non-productive areas and are also landscape features which must be maintained.

It may also contain water permanently or only following flash flooding and all states in between.


Habitats are classified as an environment for plants, animals, and other organisms. Habitats can vary in physical characteristics and there is a broad range of habitat types in Ireland.

These habitats are not designated as a landscape feature unless they have the following status.

Designated habitats

Former REPS 4A habitats which are now declared as designated habitats are also considered landscape features and are protected under the designation.

Applicants are obliged to keep the areas fenced off and the only requirement is to leave the area concerned undisturbed and in its natural state.

These features will continue to be designated as landscape features’ in the CAP (2023-27).


Scrub is an area characterised by vegetation dominated by scrub/woody plants, but may include grasses. It is not classified as a landscape feature.

Wild bird cover

This is an area sown with a specific crop mix to provide feed for wild birds during the winter and a diverse range of flora, with the intention of increasing the wild bird population. Again, it is not a landscape feature.

ASSAP area/features

A targeted intervention created under the ASSAP (Agricultural Sustainability Support and Advisory Programme), or an equivalent programme, to help improve water quality.

An example of such measures includes a riparian margin adjacent to a stream. Not designated as a landscape feature.

Grassland Space for Nature

This is described as an area that will provide space for wildlife to flourish and allow the development of vegetation structure of varying heights suitable for diversity of invertebrates. This grassland area must be fenced off.

This area cannot be used for an agronomic activity, however topping may be carried out once a year between 1 September and 28 February.

Buffer strips

Buffer strips must be situated on arable lands along rivers or streams. These are identified and measured on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s online system and are based on Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSi) data.

Under conditionality requirements, applicants are obliged to leave a minimum of 3m of uncultivated ground between their crop and the watercourse.

The buffer strips are measured from the top of the bank next to watercourses.

There must be reduced production on buffer strips, but the area can be grazed or topped and crops cannot be harvested.

Hedgerows and individual or groups/rows of trees

A hedge or hedgerow is a line of closely spaced bushes/shrubs and/or tree species, planted and trained in such a way as to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area which may include scrub/bushes that have developed in the traditional manner at the base of the hedgerow/boundary.

Hedgerows have an important status in biodiversity and are a landscape feature which must be retained and managed accordingly.

The hedgerow may vary in width depending on the management practices that are traditional to the area and farm practices.

Gappy hedges where there are at least 20% of hedgerow species (including briars, gorse etc) dispersed along the length of the hedge are considered a hedgerow.

Hedgerows are also designated as landscape features. They may be removed in certain circumstances with approval and provided prior planting of an equivalent hedgerow occurs.

Briars on an earthen bank are also considered as a landscape feature, however earthen banks on their own are not.

Trees in a line are classified as a line of tree species (excluding conifers), planted with or without hedgerow species in between. Trees in a line will also be landscape features.

A copse/group of trees is an area of trees. Individual trees will not be considered for the calculation of the 4% requirement of NPFs and areas.

Forestry is a parcel with trees and is included as an NPF because of its ability to provide shelter/habitat for a range of plant species and animals they attract.

Leaving aside certain exceptions, forestry will only be able to contribute to 50% of GAEC 8 targets.

Land lying fallow

Land lying fallow must be arable fallow lands. That means the lands must have been used for arable crop production during one or more of the previous five years.

Certain land types

Other NPFs designated under GAEC 8 with an appropriate weighting are Natura 2000 sites, commonage, land subject to GAEC 2 and land subject to GAEC 9.

All of these areas have certain characteristics such as soil type, flora and fauna, water, landscape features and other relevant environmental factors by which they provide environmental benefits for biodiversity and eco-systems in the Irish landscape.

Small pond

A pond is a small body of surface water, together with the herbaceous or woody plants along its banks. Manmade ponds and ponds created by applicants that are participating in European Innovation Partnership (EIP) projects or other CAP interventions will be considered NPFs for the purposes of GAEC 8.

Stone walls

A traditional stone wall is a line/boundary made of rock/stones, which is handmade, without mortar. Other forms of stone wall will not count as a non-productive feature.