Safeguarding our soils for the future

Measures to protect and improve our soil to meet rising demand for food and to combat climate change have been unveiled by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

England’s soil has suffered over the last 200 years from the impacts of intensive farming and industrial pollution, and today is under threat from erosion by wind and rain, a loss of organic matter and nutrients, and pressure for development.

Safeguarding our Soils, published this week, sets out how the government plans to halt and reverse the degradation of England’s soil over the next 20 years, working with farmers and other land managers, developers, planners and construction companies to manage soil sustainably.

By 2050 the world will need to double current food production to feed a growing population, possible only with healthy soils.  Future sustainability of the UK’s food supply will depend on maintaining the natural resources, including soil, on which production depends.

Hilary Benn said: “Soil is one of the building blocks of life.  Good quality soils are essential for a thriving farming industry, a sustainable food supply, and a healthy environment.

“Britain’s soils hold more carbon than all the trees in Europe’s forests – and their protection is critical if we are to successfully combat climate change.

 “This is an important step in increasing the value we place on soil, and will safeguard this vital resource now and in the future.”

The strategy sets out how the government will:

  • Support farmers in managing agricultural soil, and address the threats to it;
  • Reduce the rate of loss of carbon in soil to tackle climate change, and use soil to help adapt to the impacts of climate change;
  • Provide a framework for action to protect peat habitats;
  • Protect soils in urban areas during development and construction;
  • Value soils in the planning system; and
  • Prevent pollution of soils, and deal with the historic legacy of contaminated land.
  • Measures include guidance, training and advice for the agriculture industry on protecting and increasing soil organic matter, incentives and regulation to prevent soil degradation, and the monitoring of levels and threats to the soil.

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