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26 March 2020

The news has clearly been dominated by global public health this week, but a few important soil headlines have also emerged:

Our FOI request, revealing that a mere 0.41% of the government’s total investment in environmental monitoring is spent on soil, continues to achieve coverage. Read the latest piece as featured in Business Green. More details on our website here.

Defra has released the discussion document relating to its new Environmental Land Management scheme and is inviting feedback from farmers and stakeholders until 5 May. We have responded with our initial thoughts on what the discussion so far means for soil health and increasing soil organic carbon. Let us know if you have any further thoughts to add.

With the current public health situation restricting movement and activities on a large scale, the UK’s farmers have issued a call for a new, local ‘land army’ to alleviate the shortage in labourers, veg pickers and land workers. Despite a positive response to the call, with 10,000 signing up so far, the sector warns there are still 90,000 jobs that need filling.

France’s agriculture minister has declared glyphosate an essential tool of the agroecological transition, describing it as a ‘virtuous agroecological practice’ – enabling the use of cover crops which improve soil health, supporting growth of better quality food. French growers have welcomed the announcement, whilst the ministry is on the hunt for an alternative to the chemical.

Soily things to do at home:

Many people will have been taking the opportunity to get out into gardens or plant up pots and window boxes in the last week. This practical guide distinguishes garden soil from potting soil, pointing out which will provide the best environment for plants to thrive in the space you have to grow.

Whilst our mind is on gardening, #PeatFreeApril will be upon us soon so now’s a good time to read up on the importance of peat, research peat free compost options and sign this petition urging the government to ban the use of peat in gardening and horticulture.

Many parents will be entertaining and educating schools at home at the moment. The SSA has developed an open access primary school soils resource pack including downloadable presentation and activities worksheet – with ideas for discovering soils outdoors and in, and incorporating other subjects such as art, science, poetry, music, growing and more.

For older students, For the Love of Soil have compiled a lengthy list of online teaching resources covering every soil-focused topic imaginable, with virtual field trips and activities, videos and interactive media content and datasets. They are also inviting contributions so get in touch with them if you have anything to add.

For those who would like to dedicate time to reading up on soil science, this collection of 13,000 soil health- focused research studies - as compiled by the Soil Health Institute - is a wonderful resource.

As well as reading, now is also the perfect time to catch up on soil-related podcasts. The latest Real Agriculture episode hosts a discussion around the high cost of soil compaction and what farmers can do to mitigate the issue. Also, enjoy a feast of the brilliant Farmerama Radio’s back catalogue, and their spin-off series revealing the truth behind modern baking – Cereal.

And if, for once, you would like to ring the changes by casting an eye up to the sky – rather than down to the ground – you may be surprised by what you find. This piece suggests back garden birdwatching can yield unexpectedly satisfying results.