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16 July 2020

The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has launched two consultations: the Greening the post-Covid Recovery inquiry aims to align the post-crisis recovery stimulus with the UK’s climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development goals; deadline for submissions is 14 August.

The Biodiversity & Ecosystems inquiry considers how best to protect and enhance biodiversity and-based solutions to climate change. Biodiversity is currently declining at a faster rate than any other time in human history – with 15% UK species threatened with extinction. Submission deadline is 11 September.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research have developed a “soil health” measure that shows 38% of arable soils in England and Wales are degraded, compared to less than 7% of both grassland and woodland soils. The new index classifies soils by the proportion of organic matter versus clay they contain.

The government has announced a new Trade & Agriculture Commission, to include farmers unions, the British Retail Consortium, UK Hospitality and the Food & Drink Federation. Campaigners are alarmed there are no consumer, animal welfare or environment representatives. Kath Dalmeny (Sustain) said “The British public (are) being fobbed off with a temporary, toothless Trade Commission with no powers.”

A pioneering research project at Bangor University is investigating the soil health effects of fertiliser made from wastewater; the researcher has said “recycling on this level is revolutionary”. The trial so far has focused on the impact of different fertilisers on the soil’s microbial activity.

Soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal, this year’s winner of the World Food Prize – aka the ‘Nobel Peace Prize for Agriculture’ - has suggested that soil, as a living thing, should have rights and stressed the need for a Clean Soil Act to join existing Clean Air and Clean Water acts. He says: “it’s time that our policymakers wake up”.

The direct link between soil health and human health (via food nutrition and the gut’s microbiome) has recently commanded the attention of big food companies, amongst others, and sparked a boom in soil research. This piece unpacks the link, describes research and explains how degraded farmland could impact on the health-giving properties of our food.

A study has found that tree planting does not necessarily boost ecosystem carbon stocks. Analysing 39-year old tree-planting projects in Scotland, researchers found any increase in carbon storage from tree stock was offset by lost carbon from disrupted soil.

Topping soil with basalt rock dust could help to sequester significant quantities of CO2 whilst simultaneously increasing crop nutrients. The dust increases soil alkalinity, dissolving CO2 into non-organic carbon forms such as hydrogen carbonate ions, which are then removed via rainwater and transferred to the ocean where they act as carbon-prisons for 100,000 years.

The impact of no-till farming is still up for debate. A new study located at UK’s Spindletop Research Farm - one of only a few sites in the world to adopt continuous no-till agriculture for 50+ years – has used historical field data, field observations and agricultural modelling to explore the long-term effects of cover crops and no-till and predict how those management practices may benefit future agroecosystems. They found that no-till and cover crops work together to simultaneously slow down carbon decomposition and increase carbon inputs into the soil.

A report this week has named ‘regenerating soils and increasing the sustainability of UK agriculture’ as one of the primary nature-based solutions for a green post-crisis recovery. It serves to set out the benefits of accelerating private investment in nature-based solutions and outlines a detailed proposal to establish a portfolio of large-scale demonstration projects. Featuring our partners/supporters En Trade.