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24 October 2019

In bad news for Scottish soils (and, indeed, the UK) Midlothian Council have approved the extraction of millions of cubic metres of peat, directly counteracting their own climate emergency and environmental commitments – paradoxically, the Scottish Government has set a target to restore 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2030. Globally, peatlands contain more carbon than all forests and sunlit ocean area combined.

The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has warned that the new Environment Bill, as it stands, is ‘not fit for purpose’: the proposed watchdog will lack independence, new environmental targets are deemed “too little too late” and there is real threat of regression of standards post-Brexit. The second reading of the Bill takes place on Monday.

The Agriculture Bill was reintroduced in the Queen’s speech that opened a new session of parliament last week; the Bill is currently unchanged and farming representatives including the NFU are maintaining calls for greater protections and reassurances for British farming post-Brexit. The Country Land & Business Association have called for the Bill to be fast-tracked after a ‘wasted year’ stuck in legislative limbo.’

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Landmark project has presented soil and sustainable agriculture policy recommendations to support the green credentials of the next European CAP, based on their analysis of different soil functions and identification of good soil farming practices. The European Commission aims to give more flexibility to regions in developing their own agricultural strategies, which will allow variations in soil functions, conditions and needs to be taken in to account.

A new paper in Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems focuses on the regionally-specific barriers to, and opportunities for, carbon management practices in European agricultural production. Common barriers included biophysical conditions, lacking financial support, farmer knowledge/experience and quality of advice available. The report makes recommendations around provision of quality farmer education and a process-oriented approach.

The Soil Association and Pesticide Action Network have released a report revealing over 1/3 fresh produce in the UK contains a ‘cocktail’ of pesticides and 67% of soil samples contain multiple pesticide. Mounting evidence demonstrates the increased toxicity caused by interactions of chemicals which are currently only tested for harm to people and environment in isolation.

The University of Leeds has published research suggesting that introduction of fungi to wheat crops could reduce need for fertilisers. The results suggest there is potential to breed new crop varieties which regain a commonly-lost relationship with beneficial fungi, thereby enhancing their natural ability to take up nutrients and improving sustainability of future food production systems.

An eco-friendly company has produced tableware which can withstand hot temperatures and biodegrades back into soil within 90 days. The inspiration was the huge amount of single-use plastic that ends up in landfill in India. The impact on soil of producing this sugarcane-based material is currently unknown.

The next Global Symposium on Soil has been announced, taking place at FAO HQ in Rome on 10-12 March 2020: a science-policy meeting on the theme of Soil Biodiversity, aiming to address critical knowledge gaps and enhance implementation of sustainable practices. A call for abstracts has been issued with a deadline of 31 January 2020. More details here.

In the latest edition of Costing the Earth, an investigation into the dramatic rise in popularity of plastic lawns and plants explored its ramifications for the environment. A negative impact on below-ground communities was identified, as was a lack of recycling facilities for these products, a threat of soil-invading microplastics and an impact on wider biodiversity. Friend of the Soils Alliance Arit Anderson encouraged people to recognise their gardens as a “very, very important microcosm of a bigger environmental need that is going on around you”. Listen to the episode here.

“The key to saving family farms is in the soil” according to Yes! Journalism for People Building a Better World. The piece centres round farmers adopting regenerative agricultural practices in the Midwest of the US who are simultaneously rebuilding rural economies, improving the environment and increasing carbon stores.