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17 October 2019

Understanding of the prevalence and role of microplastics in soils is increasing rapidly. After studies showed that digesting soil particles compromised worms’ survival, Anglia Ruskin University have found that attempting to grow crops in affected soils results in lower yields. Long term impacts include stunted soil biodiversity which all terrestrial life relies upon. As the article says, “damaged soil destroys not only ecosystems, but societies as well.”

The UK government have presented the latest version of the Environment Bill announcing, amongst other things, the establishment of a new independent body in the form of the Office for Environment Protection which will hold government to account on its net zero targets and have the powers to take enforcement action against public authorities. As usual, air and water quality are highlighted as environmental priorities whilst soil is entirely neglected.

Some are worried the Bill doesn’t go far enough, such as Greenpeace; there are concerns around enforcement, Biodiversity Net Gain and non-regression, as in the Wildlife Trusts’ response here; and a more in-depth analysis from a Dundee University Professor published on the Brexit & Environment platform.

The EFRA committee have launched an inquiry into the Bill and are currently receiving submissions.

A new study could help calculate more accurately the amount of carbon stored on the planet and global soil fertility, as well as supporting climate change modelling. The UN estimate 220 hectares of abandoned arable land worldwide, and the study considers how the cessation of agricultural practices affects the accumulation of carbon in this soil.

World Food Day took place on Wednesday and Green America chose to honour Soil SuperHeroes – farmers and food companies that are committed to saving soils to produce healthier food and mitigate climate change via the use of regenerative agricultural practices. More on the heroes and their work here.

A reminder of the integral complexity of the world of soils: experimentation with water-saving rice growing techniques has found the new methods may reduce fertility of the soil due to moisture playing a role in regulating soil carbon – but also decrease methane and CO2 emissions by 50+% and 18% respectively!

And finally – new research reveals it may be possible to grow crops in space. In Wageningen trials, soil from Mars and the Moon was found to be surprisingly fertile, with 9 out of 10 crops – including tomato, quionoa, rye and radishes - successfully growing edible parts and viable seeds. Spinach was the lone casualty in the experiment.