World Soil Day: A third of global soils are already degraded

The UN has called for urgent action to stop soil pollution, noting that a third of global soils are already degraded.

The call was made as part of World Soil Day (December 5) – a UN-led campaign to highlight the importance of healthy soil and the role it plays in society.

Soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere, reduces the risk of flooding by absorbing water and delivers 95% of our global food supplies.

Outside the EU and the Common Agricultural Policy, a new system of “public money for public goods” will reward British farmers for environmental outcomes such as clean air and water, flood prevention, thriving plants and wildlife and the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Environment Minister Therese Coffey, who has been an advocate for soil health after seeing first-hand the benefits of effective management on a farm visit in Lincolnshire, explained that working to improve soil could achieve many of these.

“Everybody has a role to play in looking after our soils and initiatives such as World Soil Day are vital in highlighting the environmental benefits that soil provides for us all.

As we leave the European Union, we have the opportunity to reward farmers for the outcomes they provide by protecting this essential global resource.

Throughout the year, farmers and land managers can take advantage of the free advice, training and events run through Catchment Sensitive Farming, which provides advice on how to improve soil health, make better use of farm resources and help protect the environment.

Earlier this week, Natural England scientists visited Wheatsheaf Farming in Micheldever, Hampshire, to see some of these techniques in practice – including no-till drilling which avoids disturbing the soils and help improve organic matter.

Many farmers and land managers are already signed up to Countryside Stewardship and Environmental Stewardship schemes to deliver benefits for nature, including better management of soil.

The next application window for Countryside Stewardship is expected to open in early 2019, with the simpler “wildlife offers” for arable, upland, lowland grazing and mixed farmers all available online.

An ‘Ecological Site Classification’ system has also been designed by Forest Research to help land managers to find out what trees are ecologically best suited to growing in the soil at their sites.

This tool will allow them to input a site’s grid reference and soil type to give a detailed description of its suitability for growing different tree species.