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02 April 2020

In a year dominated by climate change, flooding & coronavirus, the Royal Society have this week released a report on "Soil Structure and its Benefits" highlighting the potential of well-structured soil in mitigating the impact of all three – and recommending that soil is placed at the centre of the UK government’s new Environment Land Management scheme (ELMs). Read the report here and our response to its findings here.

Meanwhile, increasingly widespread recognition is being given to the role of healthy soil for flood mitigation. “We need to take a holistic view – land can do many, many things” said a Wildlife Trusts spokesperson. This article outlines the significant contribution soil can make, referencing Defra-funded research which found a 3-10x greater water run-off from compacted soils than healthy.

Defra has published the ELMs Discussion Document and we will be responding to the Consultation, which comes to a close on 5 May - and are looking for your help. We’re asking questions such as how soil health should be incentivised under the scheme, what farming practices should be endorsed and whether soil carbon is the key indicator of soil health. Further thoughts on this from us here.

Peat Free April is now upon us. This list of peat-free nurseries is a great place to start, and our page on the importance of peat provides a good refresher . Sign this petition calling on Defra to ban the use of peat in horticulture, and keep up to date on the campaign by following @peatfreeapril and #peatfreeapril on twitter.

HS2 works continue, with soil relocation activities taking place at a catastrophic time for wildlife, as opposed to in winter as originally agreed. Soil is being removed from ancient woodlands at a time when the natural world is coming back to life, rather than in winter months when trees, plants and wildlife are dormant. Bird-nest habitats are being destroyed ‘on an industrial scale.’ The Woodland Trust have called the move ‘heartbreaking’ and a ‘betrayal of trust’ – asking “if a government project is doing things wrong, what does that say to other developers?”

The Soil Care project has published a number of new briefing notes on soil-related issues with recommendations for integrating soil health policies in to the European CAP and agri-environment directives going forward.

SSA Advisor Stephen Briggs, a farmer and Innovation for Agriculture’s Soil & Water Manager, appeared on BBC Cambs this week to discuss the results of our FOI request into the government’s soil monitoring budget and the benefits of agroforestry for soil health. Listen again to the 25-minute interview here.

The first bacterium has been found which can break down plastic. It was discovered at a waste site where it was not only decomposing polyurethane but also using the plastic as food to power the process. Scientists say it could be an important step for plastic recycling, but it will be at least 10 years before the bacteria can be used at largescale.

Researchers have investigated how species mix and timing of cover cropping impacts on soil properties after four years. The results were published in Agronomy Journal, and further research is recommended

Understanding soil dynamics and their feedbacks is vital to understanding how Earth’s climate will change in the future. Scientists are using soil behaviour in Arctic environments – areas where soil is already undergoing regular freeze-thaw cycles, allowing soil microbes to come out of hibernation and cycle carbon and nitrogen through the environment – to understand what will happen as permafrost continues to thaw.

And researchers at Purdue University have found that methane-consuming microbes called methanotrophs might counter some of the release of greenhouse gases from the thawing permafrost, possibly resulting in far lower emissions than previously thought.

NASA has released new global maps showing groundwater and soil wetness, as crucial for irrigation, crop production and predicting flooding or drought conditions. The maps are important as the availability of global drought-prediction data is limited.

On the 10th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Soil Science Society of America has dedicated three pieces on their Soils Matter blog to the topic of the long term impact on the soils and wetlands, how scientists helped determine and solve related issues – and where the wetlands are in their recovery. Further details and read the blogs in full here