Defra under fire for lack of action on soil health

Millions of tonnes of soil are eroded each year in the UK. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Millions of tonnes of soil are eroded each year in the UK. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Without swift action, soil degradation could see some of the UK’s most productive agricultural land rendered unprofitable within a generation, a report has warned.

And the UK government was criticised by parliament’s environmental audit committee (EAC) for failing to do enough to ensure that the country’s soils were managed in a manner which would keep them in good heart for future generations.

Following the publication of the House of Commons committee’s investigation into soil health, Mary Creagh MP, EAC chairwoman, warned that more action was required.

She said that despite the fact that the UK government had given an undertaking to introduce measures to manage soil sustainably by 2030, the report had uncovered little evidence that this target was likely to be met.

READ MORE: Scottish research finds soil crucial to climate change fight

Creagh said: “Soil is a Cinderella environmental issue. It doesn’t receive as much attention as air pollution, water quality or climate change. But … society relies on healthy soil for the food we eat, for flood prevention, and for storing carbon.”

She said that the government relied on rules linked to farm subsidy payments to regulate agricultural soil health. But the committee claimed these rules were “too weak, too loosely enforced, and focused only on preventing further damage to soil rather than encouraging restoration and improvement”.

“Rules with greater scope, force and ambition are required in order to meet the government’s stated goal to manage soils sustainably by 2030.”

She added that monitoring changes in soil health over time was key to developing effective policy, and advised the introduction of a rolling national-scale monitoring scheme to provide adequate information about the state of the nation’s soils.

• In Scotland, Sepa has launched a new guide aimed at encouraging farmers to value their soils.

Mark Aitken, principal policy officer with Sepa, said that around 2.9 million tonnes of soil were eroded each year across the UK and that soil quality continued to be diminished by poor practices.

“Protecting Scotland’s soils and environment is now more important than ever in the face of current economic, climatic and environmental challenges,” he said.

“The ‘Valuing Your Soils’ brochure encourages good management practices that will improve soil quality, help maintain healthy soils and in turn improve farm profits and protect the environment.”

The document is available online, and brochures will be distributed at the Royal Highland and other agricultural shows across the country.

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