The Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) was launched in 2017 to address the current crisis in our soils. Its aim is to restore soils to health within one generation by galvanising the communities of scientists, innovators, policy-makers and land managers already active in this area, harnessing their activities and providing them with a sense of common purpose.
There is a growing sense of urgency around the state of our soils, based on increased awareness of the potentially catastrophic consequences for the nation’s food supply, flood prevention, coastal waters and biodiversity. Indeed, it is estimated that 1/3 UK soils are already degraded.
Good soil management is also essential in the fight against climate change as soils hold up to three times the carbon stored in the atmosphere and, when sustainably managed, can contribute significantly to decreased GHG emissions.
The SSA aims to address this situation by effecting a step change in the political and public understanding and appreciation of soil in the UK, one that will lead to a reversal of land degradation and the restoration of soils to health within one generation. We want to see soil get the same focus, investment and attention that other natural capital ‘elements’, water and air, have recently received.
Now is the right time to be embarking on this task. Brexit requires the UK government to develop a new and innovative national farming and environmental policy framework for when we leave the EU, meaning now more than ever they are open – indeed, dependent on third party advice and expertise to help them formulate policy.
When it comes to soil, however, the community of individuals and organisations interested in soils is fragmented according to differing policy and scientific perspectives, leading to an absence of organization and targeted, accessible expertise. This is where we come in. We aim to overcome these obstacles and capitalize on the opportunity provided by Brexit by assuming the role of:
1. A convening organisation for the community of individuals and organisations interested in sustainable soils to discuss the main political, scientific and economic issues at stake.
2. A campaigning organisation, monitoring the government’s progress in developing policies to match its environmental commitments, advising on points of detail and direction and calling to account when it falls short.
3. A coordinating organisation for the wealth of relevant information (initiatives, research, opinion etc.) generated by both members and third parties to improve understanding of both the policies and practicalities of sustainable soils.
The majority of our activities fall under the following three pillars:
1. Occasional large scale public events, featuring high-profile, authoritative speakers and audiences including government ministers and NGO Chief Executives. Over 200 people attended both of our 2018 parliamentary events to hear expressions of commitment from Ministers Gove and Eustice; and Liz Truss (Treasury) and Greg Clark (BEIS) were amongst the panel that spoke at our Economics of Soil event in parliament this year
2. Regular generation of soil-specific briefing notes, articles, and consultation responses from the SSA team, Science Panel and Strategic Advisory Board
3. A constant ‘drumbeat’ of social media feed, news digest, political, community and stakeholder engagement to ensure soil remains high on the political agenda. We generate a sense of shared direction through activities such as a weekly ‘soil news’ blog, online resource library and regular contact with, and presence in, the media.
Soil is first and foremost a habitat – both for biodiversity and for humans (it is where we grow our food and build our houses), as well as a vector for other habitats (waterways). Our objective is to highlight soil’s role as the interconnecting factor between these elements, both positively - through increased fertility, drainage, cleanliness - and negatively, for example through compaction by heavy machinery and input mismanagement, leading to chemical contamination, erosion, eutrophication and flooding.
We have structured our activities to engage and collaborate with the most progressive, imaginative and pioneering organisations and individuals in this space. These may be sustainable soil management practitioners or experts in economics, scheme design or knowledge transfer. We then communicate their work to the audiences – political, consumer and corporate - who are best placed to turn this leadership into scalable solutions.
In the two years since inception the SSA’s impact has been considerable. Our three Parliamentary events have placed soil on the political map and drawn clear commitments from Ministers Gove and Eustice, SoS Greg Clark and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Elizabeth Truss. We have received the formal, public backing of the leading UK environmental campaigning organisations and the trust of the food supply chain – growers and supermarkets. We have become the go-to feedback and resource organization for Defra and their soils team, co-hosting workshops including on the 25 Year Environment Plan, delivering supportive recommendations on soil monitoring criteria to Defra and participating in the first meeting to establish their Lowland Agricultural Peat Taskforce. Above all we have created an inclusive soil community and an authoritative focal point for scientific and political debate around soils to drive and inform government policy.
KEY MILESTONES IN OUR HISTORY: