Soil health, the ‘Cinderella environmental issue’


#SoilHealthI was up very early this morning with soil on my mind as today saw the launch of the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) eagerly awaited review into soil health. With input into, and a professional interest in the review, I was heartened to find that the report had received a good level of press coverage. In fact I ate my early morning Porridge accompanied by Farming Today’s coverage of the report and interview with member of the EAC Rebecca Pow MP.

Described as a ‘Cinderella Environmental Issue’ soils have for many years been overshadowed by the global issues of climate change and local issues of flooding. Yet soils are key to combating both of these environmental problems. For too long soils have been thought of only in terms of agriculture food production and I believe this has led to soils being seen as an issue for farmers and not environmental protection. As Ms Pow describes, soils have been seen as a “growth medium rather than an ecosystem”.

The report fully addresses these issues and firmly puts soils on both the political and environmental agendas but at 49 pages long (trust me that is short for a government report) who, apart from soil scientists and policy wonks – is going to read it? That’s where people like me come in, people working in outreach, knowledge exchange, activism. So I hope you can bear with me as I give you, what I feel are the key findings of the report, in 5 bullet points; 

#SoilHealth21. Funding cuts – Cutting funding for the remediation of contaminated soils undermines local councils abilities to deal with the problem. This is a human health issue and “has implications for both health inequality and regional inequality” as London’s most valuable land will be restored.

2. Soil Organic Matter (SOM) – Is acknowledged as key to soil health and the provision of soil ecosystem services. The report calls on the forthcoming Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) 25-year environment plan to provide time-bound and measurable targets. The report recommendations also require the government to state how it will reach its annual target of 0.4% SOM increase, as signed up to at COP21

3. Cross-compliance – Farmers receiving CAP payments must adhere to a set of regulations known as Cross-Compliance. To protect soils a series of  Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) criteria have been set within cross-compliance. However the report states that these do not go far enough; ” The cross-compliance rules which regulate agricultural soil health must be revised with greater scope, force and ambition”

4. Soil monitoring – Noting a hiatus in monitoring and criticising Defra’s intentions but lack action to establish a new programme, the report calls on the Government to develop an agenda for national-scale monitoring of soil health. The EAC recommend that this be aligned with model of the highly successful Welsh Government ‘Glastir Monitoring and Evaluation Programme’ (GMEP). Which interestingly uses some of its CAP money to finance the monitoring programme.

5. Defra 25 year plan’  – The report calls on Defra to; “place soil protection at the heart of environmental policy”, to align the two forthcoming 25 year plans for ‘Food & Farming’ and the ‘Environment Plan’. The EAC also urges for the joining up of soils policies across government to prevent conflicting priorities.

#SoilHealth3This is my summary, my take on a thorough and in-depth report. If you want to find out more detail you can download the full report here.

Burning the candle at both ends today means I must get to bed, especially before the midnight hour approaches, as I don’t want to turn into a pumpkin, regardless of how healthy the soil may be!

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4 Responses to Soil health, the ‘Cinderella environmental issue’

  1. Mary Mithen says:

    You don’t mention maize an important issue and something heavily focussed upon in the report.

  2. Liz Bowles says:

    Thanks for the summary.
    Let’s hope Defra will take action.
    On the subject of maize, this year due to late Spring, a lot of maize has been drilled in the last three weeks.

    • Porridge Lady _ says:

      Thank you for your comment Liz. It was interesting to hear maize being discussed on the BBC’s Farming Today programme.

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