“Urgent action” needed on unsustainable soil degradation

ENVIRONMENTAL activists from several organisations said farmers and land managers need more resources to restore the land amid increasingly severe soil degradation across the country.

It comes as the UK marks Organic September, a campaign focusing on how the sector supports sustainable agriculture, nature and wildlife.

Catherine Jadav, research manager at Compassion in World Farming, said, “Good soil health is essential for sustainable farming and plays a major role in providing vital nutrients to plants. But intensive agriculture – excessive application of fertiliser and ploughing – is damaging soil health.”

Ms Jadav said it is “high time” the UK Government followed the European Union’s target for 25% of agricultural areas to be under organic farming by 2030. She called on ministers to “set ambitious targets for regenerative farming methods (of which organic is one), as well as providing support and incentives to encourage this move.”

She added, “A swift move from intensive agriculture that is destructive to soil, environmental, human and animal health and to regenerative or organic forms of farming, is needed to achieve climate change targets and sustainable food production.

Praveena Sridhar, chief technical officer at Save Soil, also said the UK needs to collectively recognise the severity of the crisis.

She said, “Soil degradation puts our food security, our health, peace in society, climate and (the) future of our children at risk. We must work together to implement regenerative and protective soil techniques, such as cover crops, to preserve and rejuvenate our soil. From there we will be able to start turning the tide on this problem. There is no choice in this.”

Meanwhile, Ellen Fay, founder and executive director of the Sustainable Soils Alliance, said recognition alone is not adequate and that “urgent action is now needed”.

She said, “With each new drought, wildfire and flood, the impact of food production on the climate crisis and what this increasingly means for our food security becomes clearer to both politicians and the public.

“Such awareness is accompanied by the understanding that safeguarding the world’s soils holds many of the critical answers needed to address nature’s decline. But this recognition of itself is inadequate; scientists and campaigners have had the signal at red for a generation.

“Urgent action is now needed to transition knowledge into leadership – meaning governments and industries must resource, enable and support farmers and land managers to protect, restore and regenerate soils everywhere.”

Gareth Morgan, head of farming policy at the Soil Association, said soils are “degrading at an alarming rate”.

“We have taken soil for granted and now one third of the world’s arable soils are degraded. The over-reliance on artificial fertilisers has contributed to the depletion of our soil but there is a way to farm that works with nature, for the benefit of people, wildlife, and the planet.

“This Organic September we are asking the public to sign our There’s No Net Zero Without Fixing Fertiliser petition calling for the Government to urgently set a target for reducing fossil fuel-based fertiliser use in UK farming and to support farmers to transition away from their reliance on them and support nature-friendly farming approaches like organic, that don’t rely on artificial fertilisers.”

Almost four million hectares of soil are at risk of compaction across England and Wales and 2 million hectares of soil are at risk of erosion, according to the Environment Agency.

Meanwhile, over intensive agriculture has caused arable soils to lose about 40 to 60% of their organic carbon, the agency said.

But it added that there is insufficient data on the health of soils and investment in monitoring is needed.

The agency said soil has been overlooked in environment policy in recent decades although the Government’s 25-Year Environment Plan states that England’s soils must be managed sustainably by 2030.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson said, “Healthy and resilient soil is central to delivering our targets on the environment and improving farm profitability.

“Encouraging sustainably managed soils is vital for food security, increased biodiversity, improved water quality and carbon storage.

“We’re delivering on this through the Sustainable Farming Incentive which is already paying farmers to protect their soil from erosion and increase soil organic matter, including through the use of herbal leys and cover crops.”


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