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24 January 2020

The Committee on Climate Change has released its latest report, Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK. Whilst the SSA broadly welcomed the ambition of the report in presenting a policy framework for land use at the heart of net zero, we felt there was a lack of recognition for soil carbon sequestration and have recommendations for policy steps needed to fulfil the potential of soils in general. Read our statement in full here.

Carbon Brief produced a comprehensive roundup of the report including further details of the role of carbon sequestration and policies to protect peatlands.

On the subject of soil carbon, this week we also published our roundup of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, with a focus on how soil carbon featured at the event. He takes a closer look at explorations of how soil carbon sequestration can be achieved and measured, and the intricacies of financial reward for the practice.

England’s three environmental bodies - Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission, responded to the report with a landmark pledge to work together to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies, via a shared vision and action plan for a ‘low carbon, high nature’ strategy. The SSA endorses this collaborative, partnership-based approach that is at the centre of our own work.

Resource magazine has commented on the central role of soils in the Agriculture Bill from the perspective of the waste & resources sector, focusing on the implications for fertilisers and organic, low carbon soil-improver production.

Soils are neglected in construction but “by factoring in healthy soils as an essential foundation for ecosystem services and protecting them for their own value, they could immediately become an important asset on every development site.” Our latest Soil Soap Box piece considers the potential for soil conservation in sustainable development.

The Lake District is facing significant soil erosion due to the effects of climate change, with predictions that the region’s landscape will have changed  dramatically within 50 years. The suggestion to halt grazing to allow vegetation and blanket bog to recover has been controversial.

With the spotlight on nature-based solutions to climate change, there has been much action and discussion around tree planting. But plastic tree guards designed to protect newly-planted saplings have been labelled ‘a plague on new woodland’ shedding toxic polymers in to soils and waterways. An estimated 200m of the plastic tubes have been deployed by the National and Woodland Trusts, Forestry England and private land owners, with many left to rot in the wild.

The issue and impact of microplastics in soils is a fundamentally neglected area of research, with studies to date focusing on oceans rather than terrestrial contamination. The latest of the Royal Society’s Living Landscapes reports focuses on the impact of plastic contamination of soil in relation to animal and human health, synthesising the evidence and identifying key existing evidence gaps.

The Financial Times has reported on the methods used to sample and identify biodiversity in the soil, as researchers are using test results to build up a database of soil microbes – with the ultimate aim being to relay to farmers which types of biodiversity are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for the crop production.

In farming news, a Norfolk grower has turned to production of Christmas trees and miscanthus – a bioenergy crop – as low maintenance crops that will support the environment. The trees fostered a wealth of earthworms, whilst the miscanthus encourages insects that swallows favour and also allows the soil to rest after years of intensive cultivation.