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14 February 2019

A new report from the IPPR on Facing up to the Environmental Crisis cites soil health as a significantly underplayed issue, with topsoil loss, erosion & land degradation all at critical levels: “Human impacts on the environment have reached a critical stage, potentially eroding the conditions upon which socioeconomic stability is possible.”

A global review has found that “unless we change our ways of producing food” insects could vanish within a century at their current rate of decline – sparking “catastrophic consequences for nature’s ecosystems and the survival of mankind”. Main drivers are intensive agriculture and pesticides which “sterilize the soil”.

Molly Scott-Cato, South West Green MEP, has issued this response to the report, calling out the agrichemical industry and urging policymakers to act now to implement change before it’s too late.

Meanwhile, urban food growing sites have the highest pollinator abundance and diversity of all land categories. Also analysing preferred plants, the University of Bristol-led study found those commonly thought of as weeds are significantly important for pollinators and recommends minimising mowing in parks to encourage growth of these wild plants.

And insects can play a significant role in helping us to understand the health of ecosystems. Scientists have been studying ants to gain insights and track the progress of environmental restoration of land from intensive agriculture, mining and other impacting activities.

In other science news:

Soil fertility assessments enable scientists to make more nuanced recommendations in land reclamation projects attempting to re-establish ecological systems in the wake of energy pipeline disruption – resulting in faster revegetation and decreased need for reapplications of fertilisers and lime.

The Natural Environment Research Council is funding research in to improving China’s struggling ecosystem services, with a focus on soil health quality. A team of 12 UK partners and 15 Chinese institutions hope to develop a range of tools that can guide policy and farming to sustain soil and water resources, including reversal of soil degradation, decreased fertiliser use and reduced environmental impacts from farming.

And round the world:

With the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s new Buffer in the Bag program, New York state landowners whose property borders rivers and lakes can apply for a bag of free tree and shrub seedlings to prevent soil erosion.

Climate-change induced extreme and unpredictable weather is causing topsoil loss from fields across Prince Edward Island, Canada. Problems including late autumn rains, early snow and frost-provoked death of cover crops have combined to make conditions difficult for farmers to maintain their soil health.

“Compost nourishes soil… It rebuilds lives.” The Compost Cooperative in Ohio gives former inmates a chance to run their own business, with collection of compostable materials from local food producers and other establishments to be used for compost production in the prison garden.

And finally, the Soil Health Partnership is actively seeking new partners and collaborators with an interest in working together to enhance soil health. Deadline for applications, via their website, is 15 March.