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research & recommendations

 

Soil natural capital valuation in agri-food businesses

Valuing Nature Programme / Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

6 September 2018

Natural Capital refers to the assets within our natural environment that provide benefits for humans. Plants, animals, freshwater, soil, minerals, air and oceans all contribute to Natural Capital. The concept lies at the heart of the UK Government’s recently published 25 Year Environment Plan and is set to play an increasingly influential role in public policy and business decision-making.

The  influence of soil communities on the temperature sensitivity of soil respiration

Nature Ecology & Evolution

27 August 2018

"The authors found that soils in the northern regions of Europe, America and Asia contain more microbes and smaller animals than those in southern regions and the tropics, and these are more sensitive to warmer temperatures. These organisms are therefore likely to release carbon dioxide at a faster rate than those in warmer parts of the world."

The animal welfare and environmental benefits of Pasture for Life farming

Pasture-Fed Livestock Association

August 2018

"This interim report seeks to address the environmental and animal welfare benefits of the raising of ruminants wholly on pasture, as reflected in the Pasture for Life certification mark and its underlying standards. It has been prepared by farmers in response to requests for information on the two topics and follows on from a similar report on the human health benefits arising from animals raised to Pasture for Life standards."

Institutional Economics of Agricultural Soil
Ecosystem Services

Sustainability

13 July 2018

"Who owns the soils? What seems to be a straight forward legal issue actually opens up a debate about the ecosystem services that can be derived from soils and the distribution of benefits and responsibilities for sustaining functioning and healthy soils. In particular, agricultural land
use may be constrained by a lack of properly defined property rights. Using the new institutional economics perspective, we show that multifunctionality of soils and an attribute-based property rights perspective substantiate the intuition that land property implies special obligations towards
the common good."

Critical Decline of Earthworms from Organic Origins under Intensive, Humic SOM-Depleting Agriculture

Soil Systems

June 2018

"Organic farming lessens humic degradation and topsoil erosion, conserves essential soil moisture and biota, and produces equivalent or higher crop and pasture yields (on average +17.8% in this study) at lower cost. Loss of earthworms adds weight for rational re-evaluation of viable means for food production compatible with environmental conservation (agroecology), hence various interlinked benefits of organic husbandry in terms of yields, soil restoration, biodiversity and economics are briefly discussed. Persistence with failing chemical agriculture makes neither ecological nor economic sense."

State of the Environment report: Water resources and quality

Environment Agency

May 2018

Environment Agency data and information summarising the state of water resources and water quality in England. "The time it takes to refill water supplies, coupled with our variable weather conditions and diverse landscape, means we could increasingly see water shortages in some areas at the same time as flooding in others... If we do not increase water supply, reduce demand and cut down on wastage, many areas will face significant water deficits by 20.The National Infrastructure Commission recently reported that...we risk a future without enough water for people, business, farmers, wildlife and the environment."

Saving the Earth:
A sustainable future for soils and water

World Wide Fund for Nature

April 2018

"We are seeing an ongoing decline in river health and aquatic biodiversity. Only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy. Poor farming and land management practices are among the main causes.... Governance reform is required...to get better value from the billions invested each year by water bill payers and taxpayers."

 
 

The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium

Defra

February 2018

"Agriculture contributes less than 0.5% to the UK economy but provides half of the food we eat, employs half a million people and is a key part of the food and drink sector... It is farmers and land managers who manage 72% of the UK's land, and through them we can safeguard our natural environment and ensure the highest standards of animal and plant health." 

European Soil Degradation case studies

Recare Project

2018

"As soil degradation problems are caused by the interplay of biophysical, socio-economic and political factors, all of which vary across Europe, these problems are by definition site specific and occur at different scales. Therefore, 17 Case Studies of soil threats are included in RECARE to study the various conditions that occur across Europe and to find appropriate responses using an innovative approach combining scientific and local knowledge."

The European Nitrogen Assessment 6 years after: What was the outcome and what are the future research challenges?

The European Nitrogen Assessment

2017

"We reflect on what (the first European Nitrogen Assessment) achieved, what are the emerging research challenges (and) how the agenda for nitrogen research and policy application needs to be developed in future." 

Lowland peatland systems in England & Wales – Evaluating greenhouse gas fluxes and carbon balances

Final report to Defra, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

2017

"Lowland peatlands represent one of the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the UK. As a result of widespread habitat modification and drainage to support agriculture and peat extraction, they...are now amongst the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions."

 

The Hidden Cost of UK Food: Soil Degradation

Sustainable Food Trust

May 2018

"Globally, more than half of all soils are now classified as degraded, with approximately 1.5 billion people living on degraded land. This damage, largely the result of industrial farming practices, over-grazing and global warming, generates an enormous hidden cost to society...the loss of soil carbon across the UK costs us £3.21 billion annually and an estimated $6.3 to $10.6 trillion at a global level."

The Hidden Cost of UK Food

Sustainable Food Trust

November 2017

"This report finds that the food we eat costs us about twice as much as it appears in our shopping bills. For every £1 UK consumers spend on food, additional costs of around £1 are incurred. These costs are not paid by the food businesses, nor are they included within the retail price of food. Instead they are passed on to society in a range of hidden ways."

 

Assessing the costs of Environmental Land Management in the UK

RSPB / National Trust / Wildlife Trusts

October 2017

"Most rural land in the UK is used for farming... Agriculture...has had the single greatest impact on wildlife and the environment compared to any other driver of change. With the UK preparing to leave the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy the UK Government and devolved administrations will have to build replacement policies. "

Safeguarding the UK's soils:
A policy briefing

Soil Association

October 2017

"The UK's commitment to the '4 per 1000' initiative to increase soil carbon stocks by 0.4% year-on-year is welcome, but Government policies remain piecemeal and inadequate. 

We already know the practices that destroy soils and those that can restore and protect them. What we need are policies to support and encourage farmers to do more of the right thing."

 

Natural Climate Solutions

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA

October 2017

"Natural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030 for a >66% chance of holding warming to below 2 degrees C. Collectively the grassland and agriculture pathways offer 1/4 of low-cost NCS mitigation opportunities. Cropland Nutrient Management is the largest cost-effective agricultural pathway."

Soil for sustainable food production and ecosystem services

Agriculture & Fisheries Council

October 2017

"Currently, regulations on soils are significantly lacking regarding the balance of soil-air-water. Existing European Union policies (e.g. agriculture, water, waste, industrial pollution prevention policies) help somewhat in protecting soils, but they do not go far enough towards ensuring the sustainability of European soils"

Advice to Government on the 25 Year Environment Plan

Natural Capital Committee

September 2017

"The Plan is a huge economic and social opportunity that can genuinely transform the natural environment, support the growth of the economy, allow citizens to reconnect with nature and gift our children a better natural inheritance... a healthy environment is the basis of sustainable economic growth."

Soils and Natural Flood Management: Devon and Cornwall

Environment Agency

August 2017

"The natural storage capacity of soil can be easily lost due to compaction resulting from the way land is managed. Soil compaction can be a widespread problem in wet years and can often lead to localised flooding and pollution...This manual provides examples of how these risks can be managed in differing landscapes."

 

Meeting Carbon Budgets: Closing the policy gap

Committee on Climate Change

June 2017

"The UK urgently needs new policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change will not wait while other priorities are addressed: plans must be published... setting out how the Government intends to deliver...a 57% reduction in emissions from 1990 to 2030."

Soil degradation by intensive UK agriculture and how to reverse it

University of Sheffield

June 2017

"Soil degradation by agriculture threatens future food security and resiliencefor our increasing global population...The findings confirm that soil degradation has implications for a number of key policy areas such as flood risk management and climate change mitigation."

Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas

Joint Research Centre

2016

"Our age is one of rapid change, incredible discoveries and big science...This first global compilation of soil biodiversity focuses on the rapid acceleration of our knowledge and how this dazzling and spectacular world beneath our feet works to provide us with benefits necessary for life."

Assessment of the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources

Welsh Government

2016

"The report links the resilience of Welsh natural resources to the wellbeing of the people ...our natural resources are coming under increasing pressure - from climate change, a growing population and the need for energy.  Poorly managed natural resources increase the long-term risks to our wellbeing."

 
 

Soil Stakeholders' Conference

European Commission

December 2016

"The Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission organised an EU Soil Stakeholders' Conference. This event was a contribution to World Soil Day 2016 aiming to raise awareness of the importance of soils and the ecosystem services that they deliver. It was also a contribution to the implementation of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy."

Comprehensive Assessment of Soil Health: The Cornell Framework Manual

Cornell University

September 2016

"Qualitative on-farm, in-field assessment of soil health does not need to involve special analyses, only the informed observation and interpretation of soil characteristics.  This is usually done by visual assessment, but the smell and feel of soil may also be involved." 

Living Planet Report
Risk & resilience in a new era

World Wide Fund for Nature

2016

"We are beginning to... understand that a diverse, healthy, resilient and productive natural environment is the foundation for a prosperous, just and safe future for humanity. This will be crucial if we are to win the many other development battles such as combatting poverty, improving health and building economies."

Five GREAT Soil Assessment Methods

Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)

Summer 2016

"Most farmers and growers understand the importance of soil health for...productivity, sustainability and profitability, but many face significant challenges when interpreting results from laboratory analysis or when choosing suitable methods for assessing the health of their soils."  

 

APPG Agroecology Soil Inquiry

UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology

June 2016

The Group conducted an inquiry into soil health and protection in 2015/16, with particular focus on agriculture. The report raises serious concerns about the state of UK soil, concluding with policy recommendations in the following key areas: climate change; knowledge; testing and data collection; and farming methods.

Preventing soil compaction: Preserving & restoring soil fertility

Umwelt

May 2016

"Especially detrimental is soil compaction which occurs deep in the subsoil, as this compaction cannot be reversed with normal soil cultivation.... Field traffic, with heavy loads on wet soils, is an essentially critical contributor to severe soil compaction... To address this, improved techniques to reduce soil pressure and to understand actual soil water content can be helpful."

Seven Ways to Save Our Soils

The Soil Association

March 2016

"Our soils are degrading, and so, therefore, is the long-term ability for farmers to keep up food production. Compaction and signs of surface run-off are visible in many fields, which can increase the risk of localised flooding. Arable and horticultural soils are losing soil organic matter. This report outlines 7 key ways to increase Soil Organic Matter (SOM) in UK arable and horticultural soils by 20% over the next 20 years."

Soil Health: A response from the British Ecological Society to the Environmental Audit Committee

January 2016

"Soil formation is a long term process therefore recovery rates for damaged soils are very slow. An effective (soil) strategy should incorporate both urban and agricultural soils; establish baseline data; have a long-term commitment to monitoring;  and be incorporated in to decision-making processes."  

Changing climate and nutrient transfers

Science of the Total Environment

January 2016

"More large storms in the future will increase the loss of valuable soil and nutrients from agricultural fields. In the wake of Storm Desmond, and the wettest November and December since records began, farmers in the North West are once again struggling with waterlogged soil, livestock and crop loss."

 

Soil Health and What to Measure -Resilience, productivity and life

AHDB

2016

"Growing resilient, efficient and thriving GREATsoils.

The AHDB Horticulture project aims to inspire growers to develop their ability to assess the health of their soil, and give growers practical solutions to improve soil health.

Funded by AHDB Horticulture. Delivered in partnership by Earthcare Technical, the Organic Research Centre and the Soil Association."

Improving soils for Better Returns

AHDB

2016

"The condition of soil on beef and sheep farms directly influences the yield and quality of grass and forage crops, livestock performance and enterprise profitability. 

This manual offers useful advice to help improve knowledge and management of farmland soil...to produce healthy crops and livestock whilst improving the environment.

Status of the World's Soil Resources

Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

2015

"The overwhelming conclusion of the first-ever comprehensive report on the world’s soil resources, prepared by the ITPS, is that the majority of soils are in only fair, poor or very poor condition... and conditions are getting worse in far more cases than they are improving."

Soils Research - Evidence Review

Soil Security Programme

October 2015

"Sustainably managed soils are essential for the future delivery of a variety of ecosystem services.

However, (this) ability...is threatened by degradation processes such as erosion, compaction, loss of organic matter and acidification. UK governments are committed to promoting sustainable soil management."

 

Natural Flood Management Handbook

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

December 2015

"Climate change, population growth, economics, and environmental legislation... all necessitate a move towards a more integrated, catchment based approach to the management of land and water.... this can bring about whole catchment improvements and multiple benefits to society."

A review of the impacts of degradation threats on soil properties in the UK

Soil Use and Management

September 2015

"National governments are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their soil resources and are shaping strategies accordingly. Implicit in any such strategy is that degradation threats and their potential effect on important soil properties and functions are defined and understood."

 

Consultation on new basic rules for farmers to tackle diffuse water pollution from agriculture in England

DEFRA

September 2015

"Diffuse pollution can come from many sources...Farming naturally has an impact on the water environment and many farmers already take action to reduce this. We need to do more if we are to protect and improve our water environment and conserve all the benefits it gives us."

Opportunities for Cover Crops in Conventional Arable Rotations

Agri Intelligence

August 2015

A cover crop is a non-cash crop grown primarily for the purpose of 'protecting or improving' (usually the soil) between periods of regular crop production.  

Cover crops can be used repeatedly as part of a long-term strategy to improve soil quality, organic matter and provide other benefits."

 

The total costs of soil degradation in England and Wales

Ecological Economics

July 2015

"There is growing concern that the way soils are used often results in their degradation, giving rise to significant costs to direct users of soils and society as a whole. The findings confirm that control of soil degradation has implications for a number of key policy areas."

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

Cranfield University

June 2015

"Erosion risk factors at a particular site and at a particular time were identified as: the intensity, duration and timing of rainfall events (erosivity); the physical, biological and chemical properties of soils (erodibility); the length, gradient and form of slope; the type of vegetation/crop on the land and its stage of development; and the type and timing of singular or combined land management practices."

Runaway Maize: Subsidised soil destruction

Soil Association

June 2015

"Maize is probably the most rapidly growing crop in the UK. Most maize is used as silage for animal feed, especially for dairy cattle, but increasingly maize is being grown as an energy crop for anaerobic digesters that are subsidised from public money to produce gas for fuel... Research published in 2014 found that 75% of late harvested maize sites showed high or severe levels of soil degradation."

Summary of Evidence: Soils

Natural England

May 2015

"This summary sets out Natural England's assessment of the key evidence relating to soils and their conservation and management. It providees a statement of current evidence base, presenting: what we know (with supporting data and key references); areas that are subject to active research and debate; what we do not yet know from the evidence base." 

 

Input constraints to food production: The impact of soil degradation

Food Security

March 2015

"Every year, an estimated 12 million hectares of agricultural land are lost to soil degradation, adding to the billions of hectares that are already degraded. Comprehensive soil conservation practices are required to respond to the multiple problems of soil degradation if the world is to be able to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050."

Mitigating arable soil compaction: A review & analysis of available cost and benefit data

Soil & Tillage Research

September 2014

"The significance of soil compaction to farm gate gross margins was apparent... All soil compaction avoidance technologies increased gross margins significantly... (and) also decrease leaching and emissions of nitrogen, and require less fuel, providing a win–win situation for farmers and the environment." 

Soil structural degradation in SW England & its impact on surface-water runoff generation

Soil Use and Management

August 2013

"Investigations between 2002 and 2011 identified soil structural degradation to be widespread in SW England with 38%...sufficiently degraded...to produce observable features of enhanced surface‐water runoff. Soil under arable crops often had high or severe levels of structural degradation."

 

Soil Erosion in Britain: Updating the Record

Agriculture Journal

August 2013

"Concern about soil erosion on arable land in Britain dates back at least 40 years. 

Initial concern focused on impacts on the farm and therefore on food production. Latterly the emphasis has shifted to off-farm impacts particularly reservoir sedimentation, muddy flooding of properties and the ecological damage to watercourses due to nutrient enrichment, pesticides and damage to fish spawning grounds from fine-sediment inputs."

 

Indicators of soil quality - physical properties

Cranfield University

September 2012

"it is important to know the condition of soil and how this changes over space and time in response to natural factors (such as changing weather patterns) or land management practices. Meaningful soil quality indicators...are needed for the successful implementation of a soil monitoring programme in England and Wales."

No-till: Opportunities and challenges for cereal and oilseed growers

HGCA / AHDB

Spring 2012

"No-till, also known as direct drilling or zero tillage...means sowing directly in to the residues of the previous crop without any prior topsoil loosening. 

The objective of no-till is to reduce production costs while maintaining or increasing yields with possible added environmental benefits." 

CO2 Emissions Report: La Fattoria La Vialla

University of Siena

2012

"This report presents the findings of an ongoing study carried out to quantify the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are associated with the activities at Fattoria La Vialla,  Tuscany, for the year 2012.

La Vialla has a phyto purification system for the treatment of domestic water waste and several solar panel systems for the production of renewable electric energy. The paper and cardboard used for advertising and packaging is recycled..."

The total costs of soil degradation in England and Wales

Cranfield University

June 2011

"The role played by soils in providing wellbeing to society has been clearly articulated in the recent Soil Strategy for England. The continued provision of benefits from the soil to society is dependent on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil being maintained. However, much evidence suggests that soil degradation... results in significant costs... to society as a whole, now and into the future."

 

Soil-related Bibliography and References

Cranfield University

2011

This reading list presents a series of selected soil-related references from staff of the National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield University.

These papers, books and reports have been selected as useful literature for users keen to develop their undersanding of soil, soil processes and soil information systems, particularly with a UK focus.

Summary for policy makers

European Nitrogen Assessment: Sources, Effects and Policy Perspectives

May 2011

"Too much nitrogen harms the environment and the economy.  Over the past century humans have caused unprecedented changes to the global nitrogen cycle...The increased use of reactive nitrogen as fertiliser...has considerable adverse affects on the environment and human health."  

 

Think Soils: Examining soil structure

Environment Agency

February 2010

"Taking the time to look at soil structure is essential for profitable farming, soil health and the environment. Diagnosing the state of soils isn't always easy. Soil condition can vary considerably across a field and at different depths, and can vary throughout the year depending on land management. Different soil types are at risk to different types of damage. Every field is unique." 

Countryside Survey: Soils Report from 2007

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology 

January 2010

"Ongoing data analysis is focussed on identifying the links between soil variables measured, soil, vegetation and water quality changes...and trends in soil variables and the intended and unintended change of our environment from man's activities such as land use and management, air pollution and climate change."

 
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Results of Organic Research
Soil Analysis & Management

Institute of Organic Training & Advice

March 2009

"Soil analysis provides information which can be used to improve soil fertility through management. The extent to which soil fertility can be improved depends on the inherent properties of the site - soil texture, mineralogy, slope and climate. Soil structure is also key to plant performance as it affects the ability of plant roots to access available nutrients."

Farming for cleaner water and healthier soil

Natural England

2009

"Soil is your farm’s most valuable resource as the foundation for production. The most productive components of your soil lie in the top three to six inches of the profile – the layer most vulnerable to erosion. Erosion and runoff can result in valuable nutrients and, more importantly, environmentally damaging sediments, pesticides and dangerous disease organisms reaching water."

Natural Susceptibility to Soil Compaction in Europe

European Soil Data Centre

2008

This map shows the natural susceptibility of agricultural soils to compaction... The evaluation of the soil’s natural susceptibility is based on the creation of logical connections between relevant parameters (pedotransfer rules). The input parameters for these pedotransfer rules are taken from the attributes of the European soil database, e.g. soil properties.

The  Current Status of Soil & Water Management in England

Royal Agricultural Society of England

2008

"soil and water management face a considerable challenge in meeting the demands of increasing food production and security at both national and international level, the demand for alternative fuels, climate change, soil protection, flood and pollution control and the availability of water resources for crop and animal production combined with the diminishing supply of labour."

 

Design and Operation of a UK Soil Monitoring Network

Environment Agency

2008

Since 2003, the UK Soils Indicator Consortium has been working to develop a set of indicators of soil function that will allow us to monitor current status and any change in soil quality. 

This report suggests monitoring schemes to assess UK soils. Options are evaluated on their ability to monitor indicators to sufficient precision, the advantages and limitations of the scheme type and cost.

Erosion of arable soils in Britain

International Journal of Environmental Studies

February 2007

"Current agricultural practices are increasing the magnitude and extent of soil erosion in Britain and other parts of Europe...Proposed strategies for soil conservation include avoiding cultivation of steep slopes, increasing soil organic content, reducing soil compaction... developing a mature crop cover before convective storms occur in early summer and reducing cultivations to a minimum."

The development & use of soil quality indicators for assessing the role of soil in environmental interactions

Environment Agency

March 2006

"There are increasing signs that UK soils have been neglected and may be undergoing irreversible damage.

A new report attempts to establish indicators of soil quality which could be used to monitor the state of soils on a nationwide scale."

Muddy flooding on the South Downs

University of Edinburgh

2005

"From an analysis of a large body of experimental evidence of soil erosion, contemporary meteorological reports and evidence of previous muddy flooding on the South Downs it is proposed that the floods of autumn 2000 were caused and exacerbated by inappropriate land use. In particular, the growth of winter cereal crops on the Downs leaves soils without crop cover at the wettest time of year, leading to accelerated soil erosion and flooding." 

 

The state of soils in England and Wales

Environment Agency

March 2004

"The diversity of life below ground far exceeds that above it and is vital to soil health and function, but these connections are only just beginning to be explored. While some of the impacts of mismanaging soil are obvious, dealing with them effectively requires a better knowledge of how soil, water and air interact. A growing scientific understanding must be translated into practical information and advice for land managers."

Soil erosion and flooding on the eastern South Downs, southern England, 1976-2001

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

June 2003

"The South Downs have been farmed for 5000 years: the initial loess cover is now a thin, stony remnant as a result of erosion. Almost all recent erosion has been on fields of winter cereals, which are bare in the wet autumn period. Flood damage to property has been a regular event since the conversion of this area to winter cereals in the 1970s...Current farming systems clearly are unsustainable."

Nitrate and Pesticide Pollution

UK Groundwater Forum

1998

"Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient: some plants fix atmospheric nitrogen but modern farming practice involves the addition of nitrogen in the form of manure, sewage sludge and chemical fertilisers. The accumulation of soluble forms of nitrogen, particularly nitrate, in water can be detrimental since high concentrations in river water encourage eutrophication, and concentrations in drinking water must be limited for health reasons."