farmer and researcher investigating the diversity of plants in a herbal ley with a quadrant.JPG

Tips on establishing and managing herbal leys

Tips on establishing and managing herbal leys

As part of FABulous Farmers, Soil Association partnered with Agricology to put on a series of virtual field days on herbal leys. 

Herbal leys Virtual Field Day – part 1

Introduction to herbal leys, establishment, species selection and Environmental Stewardship Schemes

Herbal leys Virtual Field Day – part 2

(Soil Health, grazing approaches, ensiling, and farmers experience)

7 top tips on herbal ley establishment and management:

Species selection

Think about your soil, climate and the management you intend to carry out and select the species range that suits – the more variable the greater range of species. Also the more functions you want from your ley (soil improvement, forage provision, biodiversity provision etc ), the greater the need for a range of species.

Establishing herbal leys

When establishing herbal leys think about what weed species you have and make decisions on sowing time of your herbal ley to be at the opposite time of your dominant weeds germination time. Protect seedlings early on, if Autumn sowing leave for 6-8 weeks to establish then light graze in late Autumn before winter. The TOMS project 2019 results saw complex seed mixes reduced weed invasion compared with a binary mix.

Grazing and management

Don’t overgraze or poach as will allow weeds in. Resting leys is essential – at least 20 – 30 days depending on weather, don’t overgraze leave a 7 – 10 cm residual. Managed rotational grazing is key … prevent selective grazing, need to account for fencing, water provision and shelter.


Introduce red clover steadily to prevent bloat, a dry sward in the afternoon is a good time, Birdsfoot trefoil and Sainfoin are good legume alternative if bloat a problem.

Soil Health

Deep rooting species can break up compacted soils, also put carbon deeper into soil (less likely to be released). Moving from set stocking to rotational (and / or mob grazing) seems to improve soil carbon levels (from 0.1 – 0.6% /ha/yr). Including deep rooting species can supercharge this process and increase carbon levels at depth with reduced decomposition. To maximise soil benefits swards need to be managed also new research showing that the addition of plantain can reduce the N2O losses from clovers in sward during denitrification.

Environmental Stewardship

Under Environmental Stewardship if considering a Mid Tier option (GS4) to support legume & herb-rich swards – carefully consider what you want to grow the sward for – the outcome required for ES is prescriptive with particular botanical outcomes required. If you want to be flexible and adaptable with your approach to grazing and management not a good idea to use GS4 option


Cut frequently to optimise silage quality. You can use a more simple seed mix if predominantly growing for silage. Don’t try and make hay from herbal leys, difficult to get DM without shattering

These events were a collaboration between Agricology, Duchy College, AgriTech Cornwall, FABulous Farmers, CFE, FWAGSW and Rothamsted Research.


FABulous FarmersThis work is part of FABulous Farmers.

Find out more about our activity in three UK regions – South West England, West Midlands and Wales – and how you and your farm can get involved.