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3 February 2023

Defra has downgraded its soil target within its new Environmental Improvement Plan. The EIP has reduced the 25 Year Environment Plan target, from 100% to 60% of UK soils being under sustainable management by 2030. This sustainable management will mainly be brought about through the Environmental Land Management Scheme The EIP sets out what the government expects to do to improve the environment including healthy soils, including committing to produce a baseline soil health map for England by 2028. 

Consultation documents published by Defra show that the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) argued government environmental targets were ‘unachievable’. The NFU highlighted that targets to reduce nutrient pollution from animal waste and fertiliser were ‘irrational’ and rewilding did not support rural communities. The Soil Association stated that the NFU is displaying a lack of imagination. 

The Royal Society warns in a new report that the government risks overpromising for different land-uses with finite land available. Instead, the report highlights the need for a more joint plan for land that reduces demand for land while delivering for nature, energy, food and housing. In the report, it recognises the importance of soil management and the need to engage land managers on this. 

Volatile weather patterns due to climate change, like drought and floods, are pushing for new ‘soil’ amendments to be used to help soils. Conventional soil health practices such as minimum tillage or cover crops, are still not able to improve soil health on their own. New soil amendments including fly larvae droppings, biochar and ashes are being developed to support soil health. 

A final report from a study of heritage and ancient cereals in Wales shows their potential for sustainable food production. The study found that organic farms using natural soil fertility and heritage grains could yield the same amount of grain as conventional farming with modern varieties. High soil fertility plays a key role in supporting high yields from the heritage grains.

Research between Innovative Farmers, the Organic Research Centre and others, finds that living mulches can provide excellent soil health benefits. Living mulch is a form of (semi) permanent cover crop. It benefited soil health through increasing earthworms, microbial activity and soil organic matter.

A new board game focused on explaining soils, has been developed by soil scientists. Dirty Matters, illustrates why soils matter especially for food security, clean water and carbon storage. It offers a way of soil science being communicated to people that is easier to understand. The game is free.