20 March 2020
This week we published results of our Freedom of Information request which revealed that a mere 0.41% of the government’s environmental monitoring budget is spent on soils. The vast majority of the £68m budget is spent on monitoring the quality of air and water, ignoring soil’s significant contribution to the health of these two other environmental pillars, alongside the valuable co-benefits for biodiversity, flood management, carbon storage etc.
We cannot manage what we don’t measure – soil needs immediate and serious investment if we are to take the necessary steps to improve its health.
Defra have published their response and summary analysis of responses to their Agricultural Tenancy Consultation. We were pleased to see our call for better soil management in tenant farming reflected in the document, though commentary suggests further amendments to the Agriculture Bill may be needed to make it fit for purpose for tenant farmers.
A new study has found that replenishing and protecting the world’s soil carbon stores could offset up to 5.5bn tonnes of GHG’s per year – almost the equivalent of the annual emissions of the US (the world’s second largest polluter after China). 40% of this offsetting potential would come from protecting existing soil carbon stores in forests, peatlands and wetlands. More detail on this story here.
And this article hones in on the practical actions gardeners can take to help harness the collective power of soils to mitigate climate change.
This great, practical Ag Week piece answers the question ‘can every soil be no-tilled?’, suggesting that instead of spotlighting one practice as a soil health panacea we should ‘focus on a systems-based approach which gives more flexibility to use multiple tools based on condition. Then we can build a customized system based on multiple soil health practices, not just one.’
Resilient plants, fungi and bacteria are being used to clean up waste crude oil in the Amazon. The leaked oil has contaminated soil used for growing crops and fresh water sources which harboured fish and watered cattle. In some places, companies responsible have cleaned the leak but left the soil without remediation. Now bioremediation, using living organisms to break down the pollutant, is being taught as part of a ‘Guardians of the Soil’ course.
A study published in Science sheds light on the complex interactions between plant growth and rainfall which impact soil erosion and ultimately shape mountain topography. It covered the 3,500km edge of the Andes mountains in Peru and Chile, extending over six climate zones – from very dry to temperate; used the concentration of isotopes from sediments in 86 rivers; and generated erosion rates via ‘cosmic rays from space.’
And finally, people are turning to nature and reflecting on its place in our lives amidst these turbulent and uncertain times. A new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that makes the connection between wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems. It highlights the heightened risk of spreading disease caused by human intervention in wild, living systems – including land use changes, degraded habitats and reduced space. “Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it.”
In turning to the natural world for solace, people are also analysing the role for nature in improving human wellbeing and coming to a more relationship-based understanding of our interactions with the wider environment. The conclusion of this piece is that, in an era in which humans are reshaping all life on earth, it’s problematic to pin our wellbeing on the fragments of non-human life that remain. "Nature is not there to make me feel better. It’s something we can use to help us but ultimately we have to be there for it as well. And we’ve got to make wholesale changes to how we live.”