Natural Capital Committee Final response to 25 yr Environment Plan
"The overall assessment of the soils asset, based on the datasets available, is ‘Red’: deteriorating. There are no firm, legally binding commitments in the 25 YEP or elsewhere for the improvement of the condition and extent of soils." They go on:
A starting point would be to undertake an England-wide measurement of soil carbon.
The Scottish and Welsh Governments, use soil carbon as an ecosystem health indicator and a wellbeing indicator respectively. Additionally, there is industrial interest in carbon sequestration for the purpose of offsetting and policy engagement through the 4 per 1000 initiative.
We are miles off ways to reward farmers for improving soil health. We do not know our starting point, let alone how we measure preferred indicators to see if we have achieved our targets. There is nothing in place.
(April '20) publish Soil Structure and its benefits "It "focuses on the delivery of four benefits: biodiversity, agricultural productivity, clean water and flood prevention and climate change mitigation. " Soil structure refers to the arrangement of solids and pore spaces within soil. Solids, formed from organic compounds and mineral ions clump together to form aggregates. The gaps between these aggregates are the pore spaces.
Aggregates are vital, and those pore spaces important to - but the report gives the impression that life merely exists in those pores. Yet life makes the aggregates - it is small soil creatures - particularly mites - chewing up organics and root exudates with minerals that make them. The report feels chemically and physically top heavy, missing out much of the biology. Why did they not choose 'Soil Health'
Soil Solution spells out "OpenTEAM — Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management — the project aims to woo farmers to change their practices in relatively minor ways that could eventually have major impacts on their bottom line, and the environment. "“It’s exactly the sort of collaborative platform that’s needed,” says Peter Smith, a soil scientist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Soil carbon storage, he says, is a no-brainer tactic in mitigating climate change, though it is limited in how far it can take us: At their best, global soils can store just 2 to 5 of the roughly 37 gigatons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere each year."
UK : 2 m tonnes of topsoil lost to erosion each year. Lighter soil washed from East, darker peat from West
"We know more about the surface of Mars than we do about either the oceans or soils on Earth." This is very similar to a statement made by Leonardo de Vinci 500 years earlier (my 'Soil Animals' site,).
Soil is our best ally fighting climate change but we are fast running out of it. In the UK, soils store around 10 billion tonnes of carbon – that’s about 65 times the country’s annual carbon emissions. France has a great plan. We do not.
Soil is a Brexit issue. New Labour blocked the proposed EU Soil Framework Directive - and wound up other EU countries to get it knocked back. Of 12 EU sustainable strands, with associated Directives (like Water & Pesticides) there is one missing - Soil. Suspect the EU will resurrect it once we have gone.
What protection will our soils have? We have no laws, no targets, not even much monitoring.
"Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility. If you have heavy machines churning the soil and impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals that improve yields but in the long term undercut the future fertility of that soil, you can increase yields year on year but ultimately you really are cutting the ground away from beneath your own feet. Farmers know that"
"Soil erosion by water is the most prominent form of soil degradation in Europe although wind erosion also affects certain areas. It is estimated that EU countries lose 970 M tonnes of fertile soil every year which is equivalent to a loss of 1 meter of soil from the area of Berlin . A thousand years can be required to produce 1 cm of fertile soil which can be lost in only a few years . Almost a third of European agricultural areas have erosion rates higher than the sustainable rates (2 tonnes per hectare per year) and 11% of EU soils are affected by moderate to severe water erosion ." European Geoscience Blog
The amount of soil lost to water erosion in Europe equates to an estimated economic loss of about US$20 billion per year, based on a replacement cost of $20 per tonne (HOW ON EARTH DOES ANYBODY VALUE SOIL @ THAT AMOUNT??) Save our Arable Soils
Soil erosion continues to outstrip soil formation across the European Union, but that the Common Agricultural Policy is narrowing the gap.RUSLE2015 model estimates soil loss at 100 m resolution based on best available data.
The mean soil loss rate in European Union is estimated to 2.46 t/ha annually.
Policy interventions (CAP) reduced overall soil loss by 9.5% during last decade.
12.7% of European arable lands have soil loss >5 t/ha annually requiring protection.
Among all land uses, arable and sparse vegetation have the highest soil loss rates.
"Recent work carried out by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre concluded that between 2000 and 2010, the rate of soil erosion has decreased by 9% in total and by 20% in arable land (more below)." Under the new Horizon 2020 Work programme 2018-2020, another €100 million will be invested in soil relevant research. The next CAP will aim at a more targeted, ambitious yet flexible approach, giving the responsibility to member states to design a mix of mandatory and voluntary measures"
"Issues related to soil governance are the most significant impediments to the adoption of erosion control measures. Two overarching issues have been identified. In the first place, many of the impacts of erosion occur off-site, and there is no direct benefit for the soil user to implement control measures that minimise these off-site impacts. Second, the long time period required for many erosion control measures to have a clear beneficial effect limits their adoption, especially for soil users who do not have secure tenure rights to their land.
'Country Effect' of Soil Erosion "High-resolution remote sensing data and numerous other data sources, and statistiical models model, researchers investigated whether the erosion rate is generally changing continuously through space or "jumps" abruptly at country borders. Such abrupt “jumps” at political borders reveal the influence of the countries.
'On harmonising Natural Capital & the Human Economic Sub-System responds to this, saying it 'signals the end of the 66 year opportunity to implement ‘sustainable development’; and the beginning of a 25 year challenge, set by the British Government, to institutionalise and operationalise ‘development for sustainable survival’
"Sovereign Money for Conservation should begin on-farm. The Soil and Water Capital conservation work executed by the farmer, including the work required to mitigate flooding caused by runoff from the farmland, will be registered as ‘hours-worked’ and paid accordingly via a personal account at the Central Bank. " (This is not a million miles from my suggestion for using subsidies - not to landowners but for labour. Here 'hours-worked'.). Code of Practice. concentrates on fertility rather than health.
There was a case being made that we can do lots more for our soil following Brexit which Secretary of State Gove wanted to promote. He was making the case that subsidies shoulld go - not to landowners - - but for 'public goods'. Many thought it a good idea. And I welcome the renewed interest in the soil - about time. But we could be in the EU promoting the 'nationalisation' of the CAP, which is under serious consideration (see above) at the present. That would give us the same controls - to alter what we subsidise in food and farming. A report by the Government’s own Natural Capital Committee published May 2019 said any future environmental land management scheme should incentivise farmers to help reverse soil degradation which is costing the UK £3.21 billion each year. Rebecca Pow will follow up.
There is anger over government refusal to pay farmers for better soil health post-Brexit. "An application for an Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) trial focused on crop rotations has been rejected by Defra on the grounds healthy soil is a ‘natural asset’ from which public goods can flow, but not a public good in its own right. !!!!
EU Mission 'Soil Health & Food' "will provide a powerful tool to raise awareness on the importance of soils, engage with citizens, create knowledge and develop solutions for restoring soil health and soil functions. "
EU Policy tools for optimising soil functions. "The concept of Functional Land Management (Schulte et al., 2014) is a framework for matching the supply of, and demand for, soil functions at large spatial scales".
Soil Matters is an EU funded report. "Soil has become an increasing pertinent topic in agri-food, but what are the best management techniques for saving what we have and for building better soil for the future?" . One of the articles questions value on 'no-till' - as I do in Bittersweet Brexit and here in my soil animal site. Here I question whether no-till has reduced soil carbon losses, or encouraged the use of weedkillers that cause more losses.
No date for Soil Armageddon
250 Soil Health Bills been introduced in USA in last year
Fertiliser Plants emit 100X methane than industry itself reported
High Resolution Soil Scanning - Terramap
Stop treating the soil like dirt
Co-participatory Soil Science
Global Soil Communities
We need Soil not Soy
Climate Change and Land
IPPC Report shows problem with farming is based round oil not soil (Full Report). "Soil erosion from agricultural fields is estimated to be currently 10 to 20 times (no tillage) to more than 100 times (conventional tillage) higher than the soil formation rate (medium confidence). "This says that soil erosion is particularly bad (100X) in ploughed fields, and 10-20X where 'no till" than soil formation rate. Globally, cropland soils have lost 20-60 percent of their original organic carbon content. "On top of those losses, modern agriculture consumes a lot of fossil fuels to pull plows and manufacture the synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that farmers rely on to coax large harvests from degraded soils." Prof Montgomery Washingtion. author of 'Dirt. The erosion of civilisations' For more see 'Save our Arable Soils'.
"It's thought that the earth beneath our feet is holding up to three times as much carbon as is found in the atmosphere."
Skinning the Earth
The depth of the soil compared to the diameter of the earth is - less that 1 in 10 million of diameter of earth. But what protection it gives! The Earth is not the earth without it. When soil erodes, it cannot be replaced any time soon. Yet we ignore the issue.
Yet there is a history what happens when the soil goes - Greek, Roman and Mayan civilisations all crumbled. For much more Dirt - Erosion of Civilisation by D. Montgomery
UK soil looses 2mil tonnes/yr according to DEFRA. Yet there are only voluntary measures to protect this vital resource (e.g advise farmers not to plant maize on slopes). We have no laws to protect the soil in the UK. The only protection comes comes from the EUs Water Framework Directive that protects rives and waterways, and directs attention to where pollution may be coming from.
Some crops are worse than others. Maize and winter cereals are particularly bad, as they leave the soil open to the elements - at the worst time of year - autumn and winter. Oilseed Rape is not so bad as it covers the ground quickly. Rotating crops - that include 'cover crops' was the traditional way of saving the soil, but that has been replaced by monocultures in many places. An EU law to encourage rotation was put down by Andrea Leadsom.
Worldwide..several tonnes per person lost either to water or the wind each year.
Soil Management by AHDB. Their guide looks at what makes soil and how it is classified. It also outlines soil-related issues and presents management solutions. Great soils is the gateway to "The intricate web of relationships between physical, chemical and biological soil components underpins crop and livestock health and productivity. Protecting soil health is also critical to environmental sustainability "
In England & Wales the cost of soil degradation was estimated at £1.2 Billion (2009).
Most erosion (red) - from pasture on hills (slopes contribute!) in West or flat arable in East. Cost 150m - 3/4 external to land
Compaction predominantly in S.East, cost (470m) about half to land/external
Organic Matter loss, nearly all costs (570m) external.
The authors say: "Large Off Site/External Costs indicate failure of soil governance and justification for policy interventions".
SSA is about flood prevention, food security, human health, climate mitigation & water quality. Opened with Michael Gove speech on soils, he said: "Countries can withstand coups d'etat, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility...“If you have heavy machines churning the soil and impacting it, if you drench it in chemicals that improves yields but in the long-term undercut the future fertility of the soil, you can increase yields year-on-year but ultimately you really are cutting the ground away from beneath your own feat." I agree - and have offered my services to the Alliance.
SSA Launch Report and Call to Action "”Soil is the thin layer that separates civilisation from chaos, and life from death”. It spells out four distinct asks: • A regulatory framework to promote best practice and deter harmful soil management practice • A viable system for the monitoring and evaluation of the quality of our soils • A robust compliance system of economic incentives balanced with regulatory measures • Investment in training, education and public communication and a career path for farming as a profession
Sustainable Soils Alliance says "The return of powers to the UK and devolved assemblies post Brexit opens the door for the new government to put soil at the heart of future farming, environment, flood and construction policies."
2019"2019 will be a critical year in the development of the government’s post-Brexit agro-environment strategy and, as part of this, the concept of ‘Public Funds for Public Goods’. But where does soil sit within this framework?
Healthy soil is the farmer’s most important asset: vital for productivity and profit. It also mitigates against water and air pollution, enhances biodiversity, enhances flood prevention – and of course sequesters carbon, helping achieve the country’s climate change targets. "
Wageningen Soil Conference august 2019
Government Government to give farmers targets to improve soil health. At last! Past governments - both New Labour and Coalition fought off EU Soils Directive. Pow says "Farmers can be given incentives to improve soil management, such as by crop rotation". Yet when the EU suggested a 3 year crop rotation, this was ridiculed by Tory Environment Minister Andrea Leadsom as 'simply ridiculous and bureaucratic' - p119 in Bittersweet Brexit. See my soil animals site (www.soilanimals.com) on how we could measure soil health.
United Nations say that only 60 years left for top soil if carrying on the way we are.
Techniques to improve soil health by produced by Innovation for Agriculture ups the role of biology in improving soil health and shows the value of animals and how to use over crops to capture more sun. Down to earth and practical.
Big Soil Community. FERA are "coordinating a community effort to sample and analyse the biodiversity of our soil microbial communities at scale, in a cost-effective and timely manner". Send a sample and £50 deposit to join to find out about the microbes and fungi on your soil to help "provide a rich benchmark of how these biological populations change across different farming systems". Shame they don't do same for soil animals!
The UK blocked the EU Soils Directive which would have gone some way to protect soils.The UK government (New Labour with Hilary Benn), pushed by the NFU, blocked the proposed EU Soil Framework Directive, in 2006/7. The UK then got some other countries together to throw it out altogether. The EU is planning on bringing it back - after Brexit.
Many crops, like most land plants, live in an evolutionarily ancient partnership with a certain type of fungus, called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The plants give the fungi the energy to supply them with more nutrients - over a much larger surface area than the roots alone.
According to the Conversation', the effects of biofertilisers is highly variable. Research shows that in some cases these fungi can harm crops instead of helping them.
When I was doing BBC Gardeners World programme Nick Bailey said the 'jury was out' on mycorrhizal fertilisers. I said we need to include the role of soil animals, especially Onychurid springtails, in that relationship.
These creatures act like 'the bees of the soil' in that they accidentally transfer fungal spores to the plant roots. However if you add sterile compost (ie bought at garden centre) there will not be any creatures to move the fungal spores, as it is dead - sterilised.
Prof Peter Smith says it’s a plausible mechanism, but there is still little or no evidence that it is a major soil-building mechanism in the UK. So, “if you’re going to be claiming a carbon credit for it, the burden of proof is really to show that it’s happening”.
Soil HealthSoil 'health' is a relatively new term that reflects the living aspects of the ssoil - not just the chemical and physical components. Unsustainable Soil Practices says that due to soil degradation, "more than 3.2 billion people affected, this is already one of the world’s biggest environmental problems"
Healthy Soils are not a headline indicator for the draft DEFRA 25-year plan for the environment, so the DEFRA policy aspiration of achieving sustainable soils is currently unclear. Rothamsted Research says :"working together with farmers, we now know typical earthworm numbers in agricultural soils and between us have developed a quick method for ongoing monitoring".
Minister George Eustice unveils scheme with strong emphasis on soil health. He said a new agri-environment scheme must be "new and simple", which rewards every farmer for their work towards achieving a better, more green environment. "If we improve the health and the fertility of our soils, you can improve water quality, you can help address issues such as climate change and you can reduce fertiliser use.” Bout time brov
Measuring water infiltration - as measure of good soil
Soil Health podcasts
Royal Society B definition: "an integrative property that reflects the capacity of soil to respond to agricultural intervention, so that it continues to support both the agricultural production and the provision of other ecosystem services."
EU work done by the Pillar 3 team aims to provide an assessment of policy tools for optimising the supply of soil functions at EU scale. LANDMARK partners have developed the concept of Functional Land Management (Schulte et al., 2014) - a framework for matching the supply of, and demand for, soil functions at large spatial scales.
Examples include changes in land management practices to incentivise intensive food production on fertile soils (to meet global dietary requirements), to support nutrient provision/cycling (with relevance for resource use efficiency), to maintain the demand for water purification (in order to meet the WFD requirements) and to meet the need for soil carbon sequestration (to contribute to EU GHG reduction targets).
LANDMARK used European databases to define sets of proxy indicators for the five groups of soil functions. These functions have been assessed across the same land use x soil type matrix used for the development of the Soil Navigator DSS in Pillar 1 and the monitoring schema for soil functions in Pillar 2. The policy briefs build on the following:
Schulte R.P.O., O’Sullivan L., Vrebos D., Bampa F., Jones A. and Staes J. (2019), Demands on land: Mapping competing societal expectations for the functionality of agricultural soils in Europe . Environmental Science and Policy, 100, 113-125. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2019.06.011
Save our arable soils
Losses of carbon from ‘Crop’ soils – significant for both 1978 to 2007 and 1998 to 2007.
But v few talk about it. And who has calculated actual loss? I came up with loss of CO2 = 2.5% of all UK losses. Should be gains.
•Veg & Grain growing wrecking our best land
•Grades 1 & 2 most affected, particularly in Eastern England
•2 Million tonnes lost each year to erosion, water and air
•Half number soil animals as under pasture
Biodiversity of soils - by EU soil scientists
Networking our Science to measure & manage our soil organic matter (SOM) better
More here SAVE OUR ARABLE SOILS (graph below - crops & weeds = arable.)
7 ways to flood proof and improve drainage. "Arable growers need to follow a seven-point plan to improve their soil structure especially if, as expected, new farm support payments will depend on healthy soils
Herbal Leys - Field Lab A group of farmers looking to see how to make most of herbal leys that "provide diversity that can overcome drought, help wildlife and provide livestock with key minerals and medicinal benefits."
Soil Power - the Dirty way to Green the world "Scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields. Many scientists and farmers believe the emerging understanding of soil’s role in climate stability and agricultural productivity will prompt a paradigm shift in agriculture." For lots more, check out my site Soil Animals & Global Warming.
'Soi'l gets a few mentions in IPCC Report Oct 2018' C3.1 and C 3.5 includes soil carbon sequestration as possible ways for Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), and again on p29 when looking at possible land sector options - along with reforestation, sustainable diets and reduced food waste.
Australia making a start by issuing "the first Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) to a soil carbon project under the government's Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF)".
Limitations: Based on long term experiments (that we all had to learn about in agricultural science) says "In 65% of cases, SOC increases occurred at >7‰ per year in the 0–23 cm depth, approximately equivalent to 4‰ per year in the 0–40 cm depth. In the two longest running experiments (>150 years), annual farmyard manure (FYM) applications at 35 t fresh material per hectare (equivalent to approx. 3.2 t organic C/ha/year) gave SOC increases of 18‰ and 43‰ per year in the 23 cm depth during the first 20 years. Increases exceeding 7‰ per year continued for 40–60 years. In other experiments, with FYM applied at lower rates or not every year, there were increases of 3‰–8‰ per year over several decades. Other treatments gave increases between zero and 19‰ per year over various periods. My reading of that is quite encouraging - somewhere near the target
"We conclude that there are severe limitations to achieving the “4 per 1000” goal in practical agriculture over large areas. The reasons include (1) farmers not having the necessary resources (e.g. insufficient manure); (2) some, though not all, practices favouring SOC already widely adopted; (3) practices uneconomic for farmers—potentially overcome by changes in regulations or subsidies; (4) practices undesirable for global food security. We suggest it is more realistic to promote practices for increasing SOC based on improving soil quality and functioning as small increases can have disproportionately large beneficial impacts, though not necessarily translating into increased crop yield. There are a lot of other ways/places to increase SOC % in the overall UK soils. Start by re-foresting the moors.
Challenges to rewarding soil sequestration
New FREE soil carbon footprint tool to IPCC standards“Typically, most farms can attain the first 10 to 15% of carbon reduction with changes in practices, growing more legumes, sampling manures and soils to reduce fertiliser use, are changes farm businesses could take. The next level of 10 to 15% improvement should be feasible from more significant investments such as new machinery or systems’ changes, while achieving 30 to 40% reduction is likely to require more drastic measures such as afforestation."
Pasture reared beef can reduce atmospheric carbon " the conversion of annual cropland to perennial pasture, holistic grazing and other regenerative management practices such as compost application had the side effect of storing more carbon in the soil than their cows emit during their lives " The soil went from 1% carbon to 5% at White Oak, Georgia
Does the answer lie in the soil?
'Regenerative Agriculture' according to Scientific American can repair our soils. 3 or 4 main practices need to be introduced. Give up on ploughing so as to minimize disturbance of the soil; plant cover crops to both protect the ground from erosion and build up soil organic matter; and adopt complex crop rotation pattern to thwart pests and pathogens. Also reintroduce livestock to graze cover crops and manure their fields.
Report in Proceedings on National Sciences says “It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if ‘Hothouse Earth’ becomes the reality. Improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground are needed."
Annuals v PerennialsMost staple crops in UK, wheat, barley and all vegetables are annuals. Many UK crops like cereals, oilseed and legumes are annuals. Jerry Glover, plant geneticist at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and John Reganold, a geneticist at Washington State University. say this means:
They must be replanted each year from seed, require large amounts of expensive fertilizers and pesticides, poorly protect soil and water, and provide little habitat for wildlife. Their production emits significant greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change that can in turn have adverse effects on agricultural productivity.
Perennials, meanwhile, have longer growing seasons and more extensive roots, making them more productive, and more efficient at capturing nutrients and water from the soil. We do not replant - reducing pesticide and fertilizer use, and also the need to use tractors and other mechanical planters in fields. Erosion also can be reduced. It’s been estimated that annual grains can lose five times more water and 35 times more nitrate than perennial grains.
All plants at one time were perennials, and breeders and farmers concentrated on breeding new annuals that could meet a farmers’ (and consumers) needs. There have been moves in past to when scientists in the former USSR and the US tried to create perennial wheat in the 1960s. But the offspring plants were sterile and didn’t deliver on desired traits. Since then, scientists worldwide have looked at deriving perennials from annual and perennial parents using molecular markers tied to desirable traits (and the genes responsible for them). But there may be other ways to develop them.
CC featured on BBC Gardeners World (Nov '17) showing the role of soil animals - smaller than worms and bigger then fungi in the soil, from his home laboratory and garden - See my 'strange world'..
Birth of the EarthHave you ever wondered, where did the soil come from? Have you ever asked yourself these questions: "Is the Soil a living entity?" and "Do you believe in 'Darwinian' evolution?" If you answer 'yes' to each of these, have you then asked: "In which case, when did the soil evolve?" See my theory!
Soil wasn't always here. When our planet spun off form the sun 4.5 billion years ago, it was just rock and water. About 2 billion years ago there were signs of life, but no soil. Half a billion years ago there were early forms of plants, but no signs of roots in the soil as we know it today. Yet now we call our planet 'the earth' named after the soil. So when did the soil emerge? It wasn't dropped like manna from heaven, so how did it appear?
The first time I have presented in public my theory about the Birth of Earth was at Brighton Grove Allotments 90th Ann. It was 'a good do' on an awful night. Thanks to organisers caterers and audience.
This web page of mine Birth of the Earth looks for an answer. This is something Brexit will not affect..