SOIL AND WATER

Nutrients leaching from the soil cause eutrophication - the damaging build up of dense plant growth   Photo: Sustainable Food Trust

Nutrients leaching from the soil cause eutrophication - the damaging build up of dense plant growth

Photo: Sustainable Food Trust

Soil erosion captured by satellite leaching in to water around the coast of the UK

Soil erosion captured by satellite leaching in to water around the coast of the UK

A waterlogged field: the structure does not allow water to drain through the soil   Photo: WWF

A waterlogged field: the structure does not allow water to drain through the soil

Photo: WWF

Soil plays a significant role in the health of watercourses and is vital in maintaining water’s quality. There is a close relationship and interconnectivity between water and land management.

Water companies under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) have developed strategic initiatives that relate control and delivery of water quality to upstream land management. This, due to differential cost-benefits, creates a rational basis for having a vested interest in soil health delivered through catchment teams.

There are many approaches to this influenced by style of leadership, regional interests, stakeholder engagement, etc. For example, Wessex Water has developed an environmental trading model (En-Trade), South West Water with strong Rivers Trust influence, has developed Upstream Thinking.

There are inter-water company collaborations, e.g. Essex and Suffolk Water hosting ‘Day of Innovation’, which has developed out of a Newcastle consultation event focussing on areas of common challenges, such as single-use plastics, water consumption, flood prevention. In addition, the Water and Waste-Water Treatment (WWT), a water industry professional journal delivers conferences on water and the 25YEP, agriculture, regulation, etc., but with virtually no reference to the relationship between water and soil.  

  • The water quality legal framework (WFD 2000) aims to 1) integrate water management resources, 2) prevent deterioration of aquatic ecosystems, 3) counteract diffuse pollution. This requires that there should be 1) no deterioration in water body status, 2) surface waters should be in good chemical and ecological status (by 2015 with progressive improvement till 2017), 3) government should ensure WFD compliance, and 4) public bodies have regard to River Basement Management Plans (RBMPs – 2009 – 2015)) when exercising their responsibilities. 

  • The Water Environment Regulations (2003) gives legal, regulatory and enforcement responsibilities. Water bodies equal surface, artificial and ground water. RBDs are the areas from where all surface runoff flows, via water bodies, to the sea. RBMPs are required that set objectives and programmes (measures) for land-use planning on six-year cycles. In 2015, there were compliance breeches in England and Wales that missed good status targets with a risk of EU prosecution for failure to meet WFD targets. There was a judicial review of WFD (WWF-UK, Anglian Trust and Fish Legal) that Defra, EA had not fulfilled obligations to prevent agricultural diffuse pollution (maintain standards and fulfil their duties). Where the prosecutions were, they particularly affected special habitats (Natura 2000s, SSSIs). The NGSs pushed for the use of Water Protection Zones (WPZs) that are locally sensitive. The outcome of this process is that it is proposed that WPZs impose a higher level of pollution control measures from potentially damaging activities. 

  • A voluntary strategy emerged, the catchment-based approach (CBA), driving voluntary partnerships involving monitoring that is evidence-based. Also, Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF), a strategy to reduce agricultural pollution. The NGOs, however, considered the voluntary approach was failing to protect vulnerable sites (EU Habitats and Birds directives). So Defra and Natural England promised a joint position statement on WPZs as soon as reasonably practicable. 

Yog Watkins of the Westcountry Rivers Trust discusses the important role healthy soils can play in natural flood management and highlights some pioneering initiatives in this area in the latest in our Soil Soap Box series.

USEFUL RESOURCES

UK Progress on Reducing Nitrate Pollution    Enironmental Audit Committee, Nov 2018

UK Progress on Reducing Nitrate Pollution

Enironmental Audit Committee, Nov 2018

Living Planet Report: Aiming Higher   WWF, October 2018

Living Planet Report: Aiming Higher

WWF, October 2018

State of the Environment: Water resources & quality   Environment Agency, May 2018

State of the Environment: Water resources & quality

Environment Agency, May 2018

Saving the Earth: A sustainable future for soils and water   WWF, April 2018

Saving the Earth: A sustainable future for soils and water

WWF, April 2018

Soils and Natural Flood Management: Devon & Cornwall   East Devon Catchment Partnership, August 2017

Soils and Natural Flood Management: Devon & Cornwall

East Devon Catchment Partnership, August 2017

Natural Flood Management Handbook   Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Dec. 2015

Natural Flood Management Handbook

Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Dec. 2015

New basic rules for farmers to tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture in England   Defra, September 2015

New basic rules for farmers to tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture in England

Defra, September 2015

Research to develop the evidence base on soil erosion and water use in agriculture   Cranfield University, June 2015

Research to develop the evidence base on soil erosion and water use in agriculture

Cranfield University, June 2015

For more research and reports visit our reference library.