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Soil as vital as water and air for tackling climate change

Soil as vital as water and air for tackling climate change

A government committee has called for soil to taken as seriously as air and water in environmental policies – thanks in part to evidence from the Soil Association.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has been carrying out an inquiry into soil health and this month published a report to conclude its investigations.

The inquiry looked at the government’s role in "turning the tide on soil degradation" across England and the committee heard evidence from a range of sources earlier this year, including Helen Browning who spoke in parliament on behalf of the Soil Association and as an organic farmer.

The committee’s report issues a warning about soil’s declining health in England, amid its vital role in sustaining life on Earth, producing our food and sustaining rich ecosystems.

It calls for soil health to be put on the same footing as water and air quality within government policy, and calls for statutory targets on soil health, alongside the existing water and air quality targets, by 2028.

While the Soil Association welcomes the warning, the charity wants to see stronger action from government to save this most precious resource.

Life on earth depends on soil as much as it depends on water and air

Responding to the report, Soil Association Head of Farming Policy Gareth Morgan said: “Soil is so much more than the dirt beneath our feet – life on earth depends on it as much as it depends on water and air. We cannot produce food without it, a quarter of Earth’s species live in the soil, and it stores more carbon than the atmosphere.

"But British soils are in crisis and a rapid shift to a soil-centred farming system is urgently needed following decades of intensive farming practices that have resulted in soil erosion and loss of soil organic matter. As we told this inquiry when giving evidence, there is no time to lose.

"The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s new report issues a strong warning about declining soil health, but its proposals lack urgency. The recommendations to invest more in sustainable farming policies need to be enacted but stronger regulation will also be needed to put a stop to practices that are harming soils.

"With healthier soils on organic farms, the government must prioritise all nature-friendly, agroecological farming, which is the most evidenced based approach for saving our degrading soils.”

The Soil Association particularly welcomes these points from the EFRA report, which reflected the evidence submitted by the charity:

  • The acknowledgement that there should be ‘a review of soil health skills and more investment into farmer-led research of sustainable agricultural systems as well as peer-to-peer knowledge exchange initiatives which have proved to be highly effective at sharing best practices'.
  • The call for government to ‘commission and publish an analysis of existing soil health data’ and use that to inform future policy development (including ELMs)
  • An overarching call for stronger leadership and focus on soil health in government policy

The report was launched on World Soil Day, which the Soil Association marked by getting people to share a “Worms Eye View” of the world.

This echoed the message from the EFRA report - that looking to the ground is just as important as looking up to trees and out to water, as we fight climate change. 

Hear more from Helen Browning when she gave evidence as part of this inquiry: Standing up for soil health in parliament (soilassociation.org) 

Find out more about how you can save our soil and support our work: Become a Member (soilassociation.org).