In a significant development on World Soil Day today, 5 December 2023, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has released a comprehensive report following its inquiry into soil health.
The report underscores the urgent need to elevate soil health to the same level of importance as air and water quality within government policy.
The EFRA Committee's investigation revealed that UK soil has suffered extensive degradation due to overuse, erosion, compaction, and pollution.
The report advocates for the establishment of statutory targets on soil health by 2028, aligning them with existing water and air quality goals.
This initiative requires robust data, universally accepted soil health indicators, and clear definitions of 'sustainable soil management'.
The Committee emphasises the necessity of continuous soil health monitoring, advocating for funding on par with other critical national assets like water and air.
It urges the Government to finance widespread, standardised soil testing through Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and to collaborate with the industry to establish soil health metrics and sustainable farming definitions by 2024.
The goal is to have over 90% of farmers and growers participating in an ELM scheme by 2040.
The report also highlights the role of ELM schemes in improving soil health but notes that these alone are not sufficient. It recommends the introduction of a regulatory framework by 2035 to prevent soil degradation and contamination across various sectors, including agriculture, construction, and planning.
With soil waste constituting 58% of landfill tonnage, new laws should aim to reduce soil waste in landfills.
Sir Robert Goodwill, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, emphasised the critical nature of sustaining and restoring the nation's soil for food production and habitat protection. He called for a shift in perspective, treating soil health on an equal footing with water and air.
The report suggests that the Government's ELM schemes are a positive step, but more ambitious goals are needed to involve nearly all farmers and ensure the adoption of sustainable soil management practices.
The Committee's recommendations extend beyond agriculture, urging the Government to implement regulations across England to protect soil health, ensuring all sectors contribute to this vital cause.