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30 April 2020

Sanitised soil could be used to stem bleeding wounds. The naturally-occurring silicates in soil activate a blood protein found in all terrestrial mammals, starting a chain reaction which causes blood to clot.

Soil erosion is one of the eight threats in the Soil Thematic Strategy, the main policy instrument dedicated to soil protection in the European Union (EU), and rates of erosion have been used to monitor performance of the CAP and progress towards the SDGs. This update of the EU assessment of soil loss by water erosion indicates the rate of loss decreased by 0.4% from 2010-2016, and suggests a more incisive set of soil conservation methods is needed.

The efficiency with which soil microorganisms use soil carbon regulates the storing of this carbon underground and in the atmosphere. A new scientific review analyses the determinants of microbial growth rate and efficiency, and in turn how this affects organic carbon cycling.

A new antibiotic has been discovered on the root nodules of wild beans in the soil of a Mexican rainforest. Due to its unique quality, on top of its medicinal properties researchers believe it could be used to directly assist plants.

A study published in Earth Science Frontiers has found that human activity leaves a chemical footprint in soils, by affecting the distribution of chemical elements throughout land, and with impacts on local ecosystems. The results could support the design of rational land-use management strategies, as well as food and health safety measures in Southwest China.

Soil salinity is increasing across the globe, with a resulting 2-3m hectares of farmland worldwide taken out of production each year. Researchers in China have suggested salt tolerant bacteria could reduce negative impacts on crop health; reduced fertiliser use and refined irrigation methods could also help.  

In week 6 of lockdown the Green Alliance add their voice to the debate on the resilience of our supply chains and the future of food and farming. They highlight the urgent need to build a better system that is sustainable, regenerative and healthy for people and planet – to withstand climate change impacts and enhance - rather than continuing to damage - soil, water and nature.

Local farmers have proven themselves more reliable in terms of food supply in the current crisis than the industrial supply chain – with many consumers turning away from supermarkets and towards local veg and meat distribution in recent times – and are more likely to support healthy, diverse and sustainable soils and land systems. Yet small farms are at particular risk financially at this time. The argument for demonstrating support for community-supported agriculture for a better future food & farming system is outlined here.

Furthermore, “Farming in a sustainable way, and basing our diets on sustainably produced food, has never been so crucial” – so the Sustainable Food Trust will be conducting a study to ascertain the quantities and types of food we can sustainably produce across the UK, based on soil type and land management appropriate to different areas. Stay up to date with their progress here.

And in the latest in a recent flurry of gardening-focused articles, this author digs deep into the properties and history of her newly acquired topsoil: “This stuff is alive… You could document every physical, chemical and biological property of this substance and still not describe it, because soil seethes with history too.”