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More needs to be done to protect UK soils

Not enough is being done to protect the UK’s soils, according to a report released last week.
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The report published by the Environmental Audit Committee, warns that failure to prevent soil degradation could lead to increased flood risks, risks to food security and larger carbon emissions.

 

Mary Creagh MP, chairman of the Committee said: "Whether we realise it or not, society relies on healthy soil for the food we eat."

 

The UK government had aimed for all UK soils to be sustainably managed by 2030, and the Committee stated is does not believe this is achievable at the present rate of progress.

 

Chemicals

 

Cadmium, arsenic and lead are just some of the toxic chemicals that are contaminating around 300,000 hectares of soil in the UK, according to the report. The fallout of the UK’s industrial past is being blamed and Defra has withdrawn capital grant funding for its clean up by local authorities.

 

Mrs. Creagh continued: "Soil degradation could mean that some of our most productive agricultural land becomes unprofitable within a generation.

 

"Every tonne of carbon we can retain in soil will help us meet our carbon budgets and slow climate change."

 

Prof Phil Haygarth, soil scientist at Lancaster University and outgoing president of the British Society of Soil Science, said he believes the role of soil ’is absolutely fundamental to the provision of food and clean water, along with a wide range of ecosystem goods and services for our economy’.

 

Conservation

 

In terms of agricultural practises covered in the report, Prof John Quinton, professor of soil science at Lancaster University, agreeed maize grown on degrading soils in undesirable conditions needs to be addressed.

 

However, Prof Quinton highlighted the need to ‘adopt soil conservation practices when growing other high water erosion risk crops, such as potatoes and sugar beet, and on outdoor pig farms.’

 

Prof Quinton added: "It is also important to highlight the role of tillage in degrading soils on slopes and wind erosion."

 

These topics claimed to be absent from the report.

 

Cross-compliance

 

The report criticised the current cross-compliance scheme for not focusing enough on ‘restoration or improvement of soil quality’, nor was it addressing ‘important aspects of soil health such as soil biota and soil structure.’

 

One of the report’s conclusions was that more was needed in terms of legislation, than is already in place, to force farmers to combat these ever worrying issues.

 

The Woodland Trust are reaching out to farmers to join them in their efforts to tackle soil degradation by increasing the woodland area on their farm.

 

Helen Chesshire, Woodland Trust’s senior farming advisor, said: "our advisors have years of experience, we can provide subsidised trees, on-farm assessments and bespoke planting schemes."

 

Planting

 

Robert and James Thomas, of Robert Thomas Farms planted additional trees beside their crops as well as adopting changes to their crop establishment operations, restoration of hedgerows and increased their use of field margins on one of their farms.

 

A combination of these techniques are attempting to reduce wind erosion and water loss, both of which have contributed to soil loss on the farm in the past.

 

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