The Government’s failure to include binding targets to improve soil health in the Environment Bill has left a ‘gaping hole’ in UK legislation, the Soil Association has warned.
The new Bill, which was published last week, requires Ministers to set long-term targets on air quality, resource efficiency, waste reduction, water and biodiversity.
It will also establish an ‘independent’ watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to hold the Government to account on meeting those targets – though unlike the European Commission, it will not have the power to fine and its members will be appointed by Ministers.
An old target of sustainably managing all soils by 2030, first set out by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition in 2011, was re-adopted in the 2018 25-Year Environment Plan, but the Environment Bill does not allow any penalties to be issued if this goal is not met.
Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the Soil Association, said: “We welcome the targets to improve air and water quality, but there is a gaping hole in the Environment Bill where soil restoration should be.
“Healthy soil is core to sustainable farming – it contributes to air and water quality and supports a multitude of wildlife.
“Binding targets in the Environment Bill for its recovery and effective ways to monitor soil health would confirm the Government’s commitment to soil recovery and give farmers confidence to invest in measures to maintain and protect this precious resource.”
Under the terms of the new Agriculture Bill, farmers will be rewarded for soil recovery.
Other farm groups, including the NFU and CLA, warned the two pieces of legislation would need to be properly joined-up if environmental benefits are to be maximised.
NFU environment chairman Phil Jarvis said: “Government, through this Environment Bill, needs to recognise food production and land management policies must go hand-in-hand, where measures for protecting and enhancing the environment are joined up with policies which support farming’s ability to improve productivity and manage volatility.”
A Defra spokesperson said the Environment Bill gives Government the power to set legally binding targets on any aspect of the environment in future.