OUR WORK WITH GOVERNMENT
At our parliamentary launch, Michael Gove charged us with ‘holding government to account on soil health’, which we have been doing to the best of our abilities ever since.
A large part of our work has involved an ongoing dialogue with government, and developing close relationships with departments such as Defra, BEIS and the Treasury as well as MPs across the house.
We have been invited by Defra to provide recommendations and formal responses to consultations, and to convene workshops of experts on their behalf, and hold regular meetings with their soils team. Secretaries of State and Ministers have contributed to our parliamentary events. Our Champion Rebecca Pow MP is a force of nature in support of our campaign for soils health and was the first MP to bring the soils debate to parliament.
key reports & Consultation responses:
Environment Bill: Parliamentary Inquiry response
The SSA formally responded to Defra’s Consultation on the Environment Bill draft clauses in February this year. Our submission examined the Bill through the specific prism of soil health, and we are lobbying for soil health to be included in its metrics & targets.
Healthy Soils as a Headline Indicator
The rationale behind our Science Panel’s proposal for the inclusion of ‘healthy soils’ as a headline indicator within the 25 Year Environment Plan. Healthy Soils are central to the 25 YEP’s objectives: any policy instrument that fails to recognise and prioritise soil’s pivotal role risks failing in its core objectives.
Soils in the 25 YEP: Recommendations to Defra
Following the Soil Health Indicators workshop, and at Defra’s request, we presented the department with a set of soil health indicators developed by the SSA Science Panel. This is the first time an agreed set of metrics for nationwide soil health has ever been formally requested. The SSA will continue to engage with and advise Defra as the indicator development continues.
Soil Health Indicators: Workshop report
Defra asked SSA to convene stakeholders and experts to examine how to develop a healthy soils indicator for the 25 YEP, the only subject-specific workshop to be requested by the department. Indicators will be used to check progress towards the goals of reducing pressures on the environment; improving the state of environmental assets; and increasing benefits from these assets. Our report has informed further discussions within Defra.
further work & projects:
Soil health and tenancy reform
In July 2019 the SSA responded to the Defra Agricultural Tenancy Consultation. We will continue to engage with Defra as metrics and protocols behind this work are shaped.
Flood & Coastal Erosion consultation
We also responded to the Environment Agency’s consultation on the Draft flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy in July 2019. You can read our full response here.
We have recently received two letters of support from government ministers, namely Michael Gove, SOS at Defra and Greg Clark, SOS at BEIS.
Gove thanks the SSA for support in the development of the indicator framework for the 25 Year Environment Plan and commits to incentivising improvements to soil health in the new Environmental Land Management system, as well as improving sustainability of crop production - with significant implications for soil health.
Clark also thanks the SSA, asserting that healthy soils are at the heart of many of the biggest challenges of our time and the BEIS will be working to develop innovative technology that they hope will play an important role in improving soil health.
We are working with the Defra Environmental Land Management (ELM) team to develop new post-Brexit farm payment schemes, specifically pushing for the inclusion of soil health as a public good that qualifies for public funding. We have collaborated with NIAB and Yeo Valley on two trial proposals with soil health at the heart, and are waiting to hear if these have been accepted as part of the scheme’s pilot design phase.
We also submitted a parliamentary question through our champion Rebecca Pow MP asking for further clarification on whether soil will be classified as a public good under ELM. Read our question and the response from Farming Minister Robert Goodwill via the button on the left.
We collaborated with the Environment Agency on their recent State of our Environment: Soil report, launched at the inaugural meeting of the Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance. Read our reflections on the report and soil in policy here. We have a close working relationship with the EA, also developing with them the regulatory framework to replace cross-compliance, aiming to enhance soil cover and erosion regulations post-Brexit.
We submitted a Freedom of Information request for details of government spending on air, water, biodiversity and soil to support our call for greater investment in soil monitoring to achieve the goals of the 25 YEP. The EA have been helpful in providing data relating to water and air and supporting our analysis of the figures.
In February 2018 we provided a written submission to the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry in to the government’s A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment. Read it and download a print-friendly version here.
At our 2019 parliamentary debate ‘The Economics of Soil: Private Asset or Public Good?’ SoS for BEIS, Greg Clark, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, committed to putting soil on their department’s agendas. Revisit all speakers with our video playlist and find further information on the event here.
We are lobbying for an amendment to the new Agriculture Bill that denotes soil management as a public good for which the SoS can give financial assistance. This was rejected at committee stage, but members of the Lords are continuing our efforts with the new farming minister and in both Houses for later readings.
We provided a detailed response to the government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment and convened a parliamentary event focusing on soils in the Plan, with speakers including Minister for Farming George Eustice and Zac Goldsmith MP. View the full report and videos of all speakers here.
Our parliamentary launch event, held at Portcullis House, Westminster, in October 2017 and hosted by our champion Rebecca Pow MP, featured speakers from government including Secretary of State Michael Gove and Baroness Young of the House of Lords. Details can be found here.
We submitted a response to the Consultation Brexit and our land: Securing the future of Welsh farming which proposes ambitious plans for the future of Welsh land reform. We argued for policies that achieve soil health to be at its heart, highlighting that ‘concentration of carbon and organic matter in soil’ is one of the 46 Indicators used by authorities to map Wales’ pathway towards national wellbeing and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We were also invited to contribute to the Defra Agricultural Lowlands Peat Strategy workshop, working to establish the first government Lowland Agricultural Peat Taskforce that is due to begin work in 2019.