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29 November 2019

SSA Science Panel Member Prof Jane Rickson (of Cranfield University) appeared on Radio 4’s ‘in 4’ segment this week to explain what makes a healthy soil, particularly in reference to recent heavy rainfall in parts of the UK which have seriously impacted on the land - and how healthy soils can combat and control flooding events.

Elsewhere, Science Panel Chair Prof Chris Collins – also Head of the Soil Security Programme – has spoken out about the ‘catastrophic failure’ of politicians to implement soil protection legislation. This piece outlines 5 ways policy could support soil-first farming, including better payment schemes; incentivising agroecology; introduction of a carbon trading framework; incentivising controlled traffic farming; and the development of all-encompassing cover crop policies.

A German study has found that microplastics in soil significantly alter soil properties and plant performance. The research considered the impacts of six different plastics on the environment and observed changes to the physical parameters of the soil, plant root and leaf traits, and plant biomass.

Rewilding (or, as she prefers, Wilding) pioneer, Knepp Castle Estate re-imaginer, author and SSA supporter Isabella Tree has provided many sensible words on soils this week: firstly with her appearance on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, in which she describes the UK’s current soils crisis and how their action at Knepp is profoundly helping to restore life to their soils; and secondly with a piece on the benefits of grazing animals for soil, published in the Guardian’s Opinion section.

Saline soil is an increasing global problem threating crop growth in affected countries, particularly those that lack good quality water for irrigation. Recent research has discovered that coating seeds in silk, bacteria and sugar to provide the plant with essential nutrients may be a way of tackling the problem, as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Many plant-soil feedbacks – interactions that influence plant performance, species diversity and community structure – are greatly affected by temperature, moisture and other climate-related factors. This study reviews how climate change will impact on these interactions and the potential consequences for ecosystem functioning.

A new study claims the earliest and deepest fossils found in rocks and soil on Earth may just be a 'chemical garden' rather than early signs of life. The University of Edinburgh study revealed that the self-organizing behaviour of some chemical reactions can produce iron mineralized filaments similar to microstructures found in diverse rocks of all ages. This piece describes the research and also delves in to the oldest fungi ever discovered on earth.

As a handy beginner’s piece, AgDaily has produced a feature on preparing soils for spring, which includes a detailed description of what health looks like in different soil types and how to achieve it.

Desert Control is a tech startup fighting climate change by turning arid soils and deserts in to fertile land, with the mission ‘Make Earth Green Again’. Their solution, consisting primarily of clay and water, enhances the land’s ability to retain water by 65%.

And finally, one passionate advocate has produced a poetic paean to biochar, outlining the ancient origins of use of this soil fertility additive in America and describing the process in detail, as well as how and why it naturally benefits the soil.