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05 February 2021

The Public Accounts Committee have published a report in which they stress that time is running out for the government to achieve its ambition of improving the natural environment 'within a generation', as stated in its 2018 25-Year Environment Plan. The Committee also points out that the plan does not contain “a coherent set of long-term objectives or interim milestones”.

The Welsh Government has announced new regulations focusing on farmers' use of slurry and fertilisers on their land to tackle river pollution. Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffith says figures show that there has been an average of three farm pollution incidents every week in the last three years. Farming unions have voiced their discontent with these regulations but they have been welcomed by conservationist groups.

The Dasgupta Review on ‘The Economics of Biodiversity’ was published on Tuesday. Commissioned by the UK Treasury, the review assesses the economic importance of nature and argues it is an asset we have failed to manage sustainably, endangering our current and future prosperity. It attributes a section on soil biodiversity and refers to the adverse impacts of soil erosion on wider ecosystems frequently. The SSA responded to the Review’s Call for Evidence in 2019, challenging the framing of the review and highlighting the unique circumstances of soil biodiversity.

Sustain have published their response to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee's inquiry on the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM) and the agricultural transition. They argue that the lack of current detail given on both is hindering farmers’ abilities to plan ahead with enough certainty. The SSA’s response focused on soil health and how ELM can be designed to contribute to the government’s targets of sustainably managed soils by 2030.

Late last week the UK government announced that new legislation will prohibit the burning of heather and other vegetation on protected blanket bog habitats. This will not extend to the general ban on upland peat burning demanded by some organisations including the RSPB and the Wildlife Trust.

Recent research conducted at the Free University of Berlin demonstrates that microplastic fibres could be as damaging to soil ecosystems as drought. Invasive plant species were found to become more dominant where microfibers were present, while species that potentially facilitate the establishment of other plant species decreased in biomass. The paper calls for future research to look at the issues this could have on ecosystem functions.         

An archival collection of over 1,000 images of root systems reveals how these fuel soil health. Researchers at the Plant Sociological Institute in Austria collaborated on this enormous “root atlas” for 40 years. They map the underground trajectories of common European plants showing how most of the plant is actually found below the ground, hence the importance of building our soils.

New research highlights the complex relationships between tree types, forest soil nutrients and microbes, and the impact disturbances in these have on the environment. It sheds light on the role of specialized fungi, who form mutualistic relationships with tree roots and enhance the tree's ability to obtain nutrients from soil in exchange for carbon from the tree.