96.Soil is crucial to society. Neglecting soil health could have dire consequences for food security, climate change, and public health. The Government’s withdrawal of capital grants for clean-up of contaminated land has undermined the ability of councils to meet their statutory duties. This has consequences for inequality and public health. New Government funding for clean-up should match the level of the previous scheme.
97.Maintaining and improving soil organic carbon levels is crucial, both for the health of soil and for preventing excess greenhouse gas emissions. Every tonne of carbon retained in soil gives flexibility to the rest of the economy in meeting our carbon budgets. The Government should outline specific plans for meeting the 0.4% annual target it signed up to at COP21 and mainstream this aim into future land use scenarios and food & farming plans.
98.The cross-compliance rules which regulate agricultural soil health must be revised with greater scope, force and ambition. Currently the rules do not cover some important aspects of soil health, are accompanied by a minimal inspection regime, and focus only on preventing further damage to soil rather than restoring and improving soil health. The double subsidy for maize for anaerobic digestion is counterproductive to managing soil sustainably and should be withdrawn.
99.Effective policy on soil requires good data and regular monitoring of changes in soil health. The UK lacks a national-scale rolling monitoring scheme. The expertise required to implement such a scheme is in place, and the Government should make use of it to establish a national scheme in short order. Following the Welsh model, this could be co-funded by EU payments.
100.Soil is crucial to society. Neglecting soil health could have dire consequences for food security, climate change, and public health. Some of the most productive agricultural land in England is at risk of becoming unprofitable within a generation through soil erosion and loss of carbon, and the natural environment will be seriously harmed. The importance of soil has not always been reflected in public discourse or Government policy, with soil receiving little attention compared to issues like air, water and biodiversity.
101.Defra’s upcoming 25-year environment plan should seek to rectify this long-standing deficit and place soil protection at the heart of environmental policy. Defra must also ensure that its accompanying 25-year plan for food and farming does not sit in tension with its environment plan. We must move away from viewing soil merely as a growth medium and treat it as an ecosystem in its own right. We call for more joined up soil policy between Government departments to ensure no clashes in priorities. As well as taking national action, the Government should remain open to action on a European level to ensure soil protection.
27 May 2016