Our Soils are in Crisis
The challenges and the opportunity for positive change
Most of us take our soil for granted. We believe that because it has always been there to meet our needs - as a source of nourishment for our food, foundations for our buildings and storage for our water and carbon - then it always will be, in limitless quality and supply.
And yet our soils are in crisis. Their health is declining to the extent that we are now just one generation away from a soil system that is unable to meet the needs of the people that depend upon it.
This has come about despite the efforts of a vast and expanding number of organisations from science, agriculture, industry and civil society working to understand and improve soil management. In fact, far too few people, if any, truly understand the complex nature of this crisis and the steps needed to restore our soils to a healthy state.
We urgently need to find solutions or risk reaching a point of no return.
The opportunity to address the situation has come. The return of powers to the UK and devolved assemblies post Brexit opens the door for the new government to put soil at the heart of future farming, environment, flood and construction policies. Meanwhile the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a mechanism for global collaboration and a platform for the UK to become a global leader on the issue, focusing international efforts on the single, very tangible objective of restoring our soils to a healthy state within one generation.
In recent years, the quality of our water and air have achieved the vital attention they need. Now it is soil’s turn.
Where the Sustainable Soils Alliance steps in
Our objective is to effect a step change in political and public understanding and appreciation of soil that will lead to a reversal of land degradation and the restoration of soils to health within one generation.
We will do this by bringing together the full community of stakeholders that have an interest in soil management to debate the scale and nature of the problem, agree the appropriate indicators and determining factors and identify the relevant policy mechanisms and levers for reform.
On this basis we will engage media and stakeholders, educate the general public and lobby government for a policy framework that will bring about the transformational step change needed to support the development of healthy soil for generations to come.
Healthy soil impacts on our lives in many ways
Soil is a living reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity and therefore requires at least as much attention as above ground biodiversity.
Functional soils play a key role in the supply of clean water and resilience to both flood and drought.
Human, plant and animal life depend on primary nutrient cycling through soil processes.
Efficient soils provide the largest store of terrestrial carbon; their health and conservation contributes to climate change mitigation.
Soil serves as the foundation for the construction needed to house and shelter our growing population.
Soil is integral to the heritage landscapes and public and private spaces which provide a free remedy to mental illness, physical and psychological wellbeing.
These impacts are reflected in the wide variety of stakeholders that share both a vested interest and clear responsibility to address the challenge of healthy soils.
Based on the above we will
Organise large-scale events that bring together experts from science, industry, agriculture and civil society to debate the social and environmental aspects of soil quality including climate change, water, pollution, urbanisation, health, waste and growth for sustainable human and natural development.
Provide a neutral forum for sharing ideas, science and experiences – both on-line and through informal workshops. This will foster collaboration and the identification of common ground between different organisations and sectors, break down silos and enable the constructive mediation of different perspectives.
Where appropriate, we will publish consensus statements/calls to action/common positions that demonstrate both a shared understanding of the nature of the problem and a collective will to do something about them. These will be directed at national regulatory, economic and voluntary policy frameworks with tangible actions and consequences at a local, national and global level.
Collate, pool and where appropriate generate and commission new research to fil the gaps in communal understanding of soil management issues and the political, management and scientific solutions to them.
We will raise awareness amongst the general public of the broad issue of soil quality, including both the challenges for politicians and the opportunities for local, population-based action, through conferences, social and traditional media campaigns.
We will deliver education, training and mentoring programmes for leaders and employees in industry, public sector and education, using innovative technologies and appropriate methodologies to engage them and their organisations with soil-related issues along the value chains from source to citizen.
Through the above we aim to
Achieve the establishment of a shared understanding and appreciation of a “soil economy”, whereby soil is valued as an irreplaceable and finite asset and for its contribution to the future of our species and diversity of life on earth.
Seize the opportunity presented by Brexit and the resulting re-evaluation of political and policy priorities to put soil at the heart of future government frameworks for farming, the environment, construction and planning.
Achieve widespread communication among all stakeholders of the message that soil quality is reversible - with the right political, economic and societal steps.
Establish and understand innovative new measures that demonstrate the importance of soils that are applicable to and can be shared across industries and sectors.
Align the national (UK) debate with international actions, in particular the Sustainable Development Goals, to foster a joined-up, global approach.
Our approach is characterised by the following
Leadership – we will provide a purposeful approach that will enable collaborative action for change.
Inclusivity – we will provide a neutral space where all interested parties can be involved whether business, campaigning organisation, the applied scientific community, academia or governmental or non-governmental organisation.
Independence –The benefit we bring to this debate is by providing a neutral space for discussion and challenges to bring about positive outcomes for real progress.
Sustainability – we embrace all those connected with the soil, land and earth who seek to use resources sustainably without exploiting ecosystems at the expense of future generations’ capacity to meet their needs.
Impartiality – we recognise that there is no single correct answer and will engage with the diversity of philosophies, economic approaches and social relations with the soil that are open to exchange of information and debate without prejudice.
Passion – we are unapologetically committed and dedicated to the care of planetary resources and social equity through a clear focus on soil, one of the three fundamental pillars of life, the others being air and water.