A new bill will be brought before parliament this year mandating, for the first time, measures and targets to preserve and improve the health of the UK's soils. The agricultural bill, expected to be published later this year, will contain a section devoted to soil health, in the first attempt by ministers to reverse decades of soil loss and threats to fertility. Rebecca Pow, parliamentary private secretary to environment ministers said that it was too early to tell exactly what form the regulation would take, but indicated that it was likely to set a target of reversing the declines and restoring soil health across the country by 2030.
This would be in line with initial proposals in the government’s recently announced 25-year environmental plan. Pow said such a commitment would be “difficult” but “possible” to meet, adding: “Healthy soil is essential, and there are ways of measuring it, such as the organic matter in the soil. Farmers can be given incentives to improve soil management, such as by crop rotation. It has taken a long time but I think we have turned the corner on getting soil on the political agenda.”
Soils are at risk from erosion by wind and water, made worse by the loss of natural features such as hedgerows and trees; from heavy agricultural machinery; from over-grazing, climate change and intensive agriculture. Poor soils also lead to problems with water supplies, and can affect air quality as fertilisers produce ammonia which reacts with other gases to form particles that harm the lungs. As much as 3m tonnes of topsoil are lost in the UK each year, while restoring lost soils can take centuries.
How this links to FCCT's work
So not only are FCCT pioneering the Carbon farming project, looking at working with farmers to trial methods to assess soil health, but also this year's Soil Farmer of the Year competition has just closed, bringing with it some more absolutely fantastic farmers into the hall of fame with previous applicants, who are protecting and regenerating their soils irrespective of government targets.
Our fantastic soil farmers are taking a series of principles about protecting soil by encouraging diversity, developing soil armour and reducing damage to soils and adapting them to suit their farming conditions. This is the key to achieving change.
They are also inspiring other farmers to look at soil health and providing practical help and advice on how to implement these principles.
We all need to work together and help each other by sharing ideas and knowledge.
The shortlisted applicants will be announced shortly. Thank you to all who applied.