Commitment Meeting: Report

Friday 16th December 2016 

Neville Fey
Treework Seminars

Having founded Treework Environmental Practice, Treework Seminars and Tree Aid, and as the first Chair of the Ancient Tree Forum, Neville Fay is deeply connected both to the study and management of soil and also to organisations that collectively achieve manifest positive solutions to environmental and social problems.

Treework Seminars has been running world-class conservation-orientated seminars for the past 12 years.

When waking up to the reality of the declining condition of our soils, it was clear that the next conference on the subject could not be ‘just another conference’. This signalled the need for a different approach, which would be an event that creates a step change in policy capable of reversing widespread soil degradation and protecting our soil heritage.

Creating real change is achievable through a series of clearly defined steps together with an ever-expanding collaboration. This meeting was the first step in that process and we are delighted to have begun this journey with you.

Tim Mead (Chairman) and Mary Mead (Founder) of Yeo Valley are primary supporters of Soils in Crisis and their belief in this initiative has been instrumental in progressing to this point.

“As a brand, we are nowhere without the soil. Supporting Soils in Crisis to help unify and amplify all the voices that have soil’s best interest at heart is a simple instinctive ‘yes’ from us”

“The urgent need to evaluate the worldwide problem of soil erosion is being tackled by this consortium of concerned organisations, starting right here in the UK. Yeo Valley are hugely supportive of this movement. For the sake of future generations, it is our duty to do so.”

The Purpose

The Soils in Crisis Commitment Meeting launched the initiative which, through achievable milestones, will restore the health of our soil.

When faced with daunting, seemingly impossible odds, it is still possible to achieve transformation. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is one such example and sets a blue print for action.

Our intention for the Commitment Meeting was to gather a broad expert community from a diverse group of stakeholders to pave the way for constructive inclusive collaboration to understand the full economic and risk significance of the consequences of failing to reverse the decline in our soil health, and to translate this into binding, meaningful policy.

The Participants

The participants represented a wide spectrum of soil interests; including retail, banking, agriculture, government and non-governmental organisations, environmental consultancy, land management, research, consumers and production.

The Context

The initiative has tapped into a vein of deep concern. Despite the existing vast amount of activity, knowledge and study around soil health, there is a need for a fresh inclusive approach to galvanise action for real change.

The context provided the means to get behind the initiative in various ways and identified levels of engagement; including funding, sharing of resources and other contributions in kind.

The Experience

The high level of debate helped to clarify different sector interests and priorities within the shared belief that restoring the soil to health is everyone’s concern.

The Outcome

The meeting identified the importance of achieving interdisciplinary and inter- organisational collaboration, and provided a platform for participants to sign up to the common goal of restoring our soils to health.

What Now?

This event was the first of the mile stones on the journey to holding the step-change Soils in Crisis conference. The next steps for 2017 include the House of Commons reception hosted by Rebecca Pow MP, the development of the Steering Group and planning the 2018 Soils in Crisis step-change conference.

A step change in thinking, a turning point in collaborative action, a tipping point for hope.

Presentations were made by Rebecca Pow MP, Prof Chris Collins (Soil Security Programme, NERC), Neville Fay (Treework Seminars Lead), Dan Rusga (Yeo Valley), Myles Mayne (Common Purpose)

Rebecca Pow MP

Rebecca is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Select Committee (EASC).

In its 2015 Manifesto, the Government committed to the goal of leaving the natural environment in a better state than it found it.

“The EASC brought the Environmental Audit Committee’s Soil Health Enquiry for debate in Parliament. This was the first time a debate on soil has ever been raised in Parliament.”

Rebecca stressed that healthy soil is vital to human health, carbon store, water cleaning and flood resilience.

“People are not aware that soil is a living thing. It takes 1,000 years to form 1 cm of topsoil and yet we are losing 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil a year and there is concern that the number of harvests in some areas may now be finite. Therefore, in the foreseeable future without concerted action we may reach a tipping point to irreversible decline.

“We need to make the soil about money in order to get the treasury involved. We will hold a parliamentary reception and invite ministers including the Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs [Andrea Leadsom], the DEFRA Minister [Theresa Coffey] and the Natural Capital Committee chair [Dieter Helm].

“We treat the soil ill at our peril. The first potential new antibiotic for 10 years has been found in the soil! Our health and wellbeing is intimately bound with the health and wellbeing of our soils. While the level of interest in soil health is creeping up, we need a new attitude to put soil at the top of the priorities list on a par with air and water.

“This has been an excellent gathering and I’m so pleased to be involved.”

Prof. Chris Collins
University of Reading

Chris is lead on the NERC Soil Security Programme, a multi-million pound research project on how soils adapt to and resist change with a clear ambition to achieve sustainable soils by 2030.

“Soil is not seen as the wealth and resource it is. 33% of our soils are degraded. In what other area would you allow 33% of your asset to be degraded?

“There are strong regulations around air and water quality. We need the same for soils. Soil health is the message people can connect with and engagement is critical.

“Soil is critical to carbon storage. There is a current initiative to increase soil carbon by four parts per 1,000 (4/1,000) per year, which would not only ensure agriculture is contributing to climate change goals, but also make a significant contribution and support other initiatives to achieve sustainable healthy soils.

“Soils are essential to life, providing food, clean water, flood prevention and carbon storage. However soils are being degraded at an alarming rate.

“To address a problem of this scale and diversity we need a multidisciplinary approach. This meeting of the Soils in Crisis initiative is a major step on that journey.”

Myles Mayne
Common Purpose

“The model of a step-change conference that could have the same effect on restoring our soils as the conferences that led to the Stern Review had on climate change policy is profoundly inspiring.

“To achieve change in policy we need an integrated vision and to develop strategies that include measuring performance. The process will be successful if it includes positive contributions from all sectors and engages policy makers.

“This commitment meeting is a commitment to soil.”

Key Messages and Feedback from the Commitment Meeting Working Groups


The message must be positive, simple and unified and relevant to all stakeholders, including producers and consumers.

Healthy soil is crucial to human health and wellbeing.

To meet the challenge of the current crisis it is necessary to transform the decline trend at every available level with reliable measures of improvement to achieve sustainable soil health.


  • We need a shared vision that reflects stakeholder interests and aligns the various groups.
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • We need to identify the key stakeholders and communicate to them the positive benefits of soil health relevant to each set of stakeholders.
  • Stakeholders need to be engaged and involved in setting standards, benchmarking and knowledge sharing.
  • Communication
  • The message needs to be communicated in order to lay the ground for a mind-set change in relation to soils.

We need to create a consciousness that draws in both individuals and corporations. Tell a story. Create a narrative. Engage the wider population. Start this now.

We must get people to care. Public information is vital. If there is a demand from the public, change will follow.


As soon as you can demonstrate progress, more people join the movement. Set goals and targets. Show progress and success.


Education is vital. Basic soil science should be taught to children and soil science should be an integral part of training in agronomy.


What is the risk of continued soil degradation to the nation and the economy? What is the cost of getting it wrong with soil health? How can we manage the risk to business and the economy and how can we understand the risk?


How can we measure change?

The commitment meeting was overwhelmingly positive. We now know that there is a shared commitment to reversing current trends and it is possible to increase the level of confidence that we can arrest decline and safeguard soil health to achieve a sustainable future.

We have a massive challenge to achieve the milestones that we have set ourselves. A core objective is to be inclusive and engage the widest commitment to soil health.

Commitments have been actioned in the form of logo support, offers of financial help and contributions in kind.

We are currently creating a platform for exchange and further engagement.

We would like to thank all those who attended for their involvement to date and look forward to working with you on this inspiring project.

Commitment Meeting Attendees: 

Yeo Valley

Rebecca Pow MP

University of Reading

Eden Project

Woodland Trust

Triodos Bank

Soil Association

Barclays Bank

Pukka Herbs

Royal Forestry Society (RFS)

Natural England

National Farmers' Union (NFU)

Wessex Water

Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)

The Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative

Graham Harvey

The Story Group

Better Food

Innovations in Agriculture

Burges Salmon LLP

Pasture for Life

The Gaia Foundation

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