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30 October 2020

The Natural Capital Committee has published its updated response to the UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan progress report and warns that England’s “natural assets”, soils, land and wildlife, are seriously deteriorating. In terms of soil health, erosion, intensive farming and development is causing England and Wales to lose at least £900 million a year.

In their new report, Unchecked UK has uncovered the UK’s enforcement gap, revealing that regulatory budgets in the UK have fallen by 41% in real terms over the last decade. This has sparked major concerns, as the Environment Agency has been unable to ensure legal standards are met to protect land and water from industrial pollution. Natural England’s chair has also warned that the organisation will fail to protect the country’s nature reserves. 

A recent article on Forbes focuses on why investing in soil health is a sustainable opportunity. Soil quality can optimise ecological cycles, support livelihoods and help mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. The article argues that implementing holistic and integrated agricultural practices is key to achieve healthy soils and requires an estimated $700 billion net capital expenditure over the next 30 years.

Our executive co-director Ellen Fay was on Futurebuild’s Action Webinar series which focused on water, air, fire (energy) and earth (soil). Soil is an essential water source, carbon sequester and supports a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity. Yet she highlighted how soils are being degraded and why they are being neglected at a policy level, whilst also pointing to the policy opportunities arising in the UK which the SSA is working on. (Listen to her 47 minutes in).

A Waitrose farm has decided to replace its machinery with sheep, to reduce its dependence on artificial fertilisers and retain carbon levels in their soils. The lambs will graze off cover crops in fields that will be rotated annually for soil and crop regeneration. If successful, this may be rolled out across Waitrose’s  supply chain.

A recently published report looking at phosphorus surplus in Northern Ireland as part of the Rephokus project, concludes that phosphorus usage within the agricultural system is inefficient. They identify knowledge gaps on how to best manage soil phosphorus to reduce the negative impacts this can have on water quality whilst not having significant impacts on agricultural outputs.

The British Geological Survey will be taking part in a new research programme aimed at cleaning up previously undetected legacy chemicals in brownfield sites. The £70,000 research programme will be evaluating how microorganisms in contaminated soil and groundwater can be used to bioremediate the chemical 1,4-dioxane.

Geologists at the University of Georgia are developing artificial soil mixtures in the hope to be able to grow crops on Mars. As endless supplies of topsoil cannot be transported across space, the scientists are trying to mimic materials found on Mars to determine how fertile Martian soil could be.

A team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have found that Amazon deforestation stimulates soil microbes into producing more methane. Deforested areas have been known for releasing large amounts of the gas, but the reasons why had remained unclear until now. Such findings will be critical to inform land management practices in tropical rainforest conservation.