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expert reaction to report on Soil Health as published by the Environmental Audit Committee

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has released a report examining soil health which includes aspects of agricultural production, climate change mitigation and adaptation, urban development, and flood risk management.


Prof. John Quinton, Professor of Soil Science at Lancaster University, said:

“The Environmental Audit  Committee are right to highlight the role of maize in degrading soils when it is grown on unsuitable conditions, but it is also important to highlight the need for adopting soil conservation practices when growing other high water erosion risk crops e.g. potatoes, outdoor pigs  and sugar beet. The role of tillage in degrading soils on slopes and wind eroding soils appear to have been missed by the committee.

“Halting carbon loss in soils and attempting to meet the target of 0.4% increase year on year makes absolute sense from a soil quality and climate change perspective.

“Even a small increase in soil carbon will take significant amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.

“An effective monitoring system, as proposed by the Environment Audit committee, would allow the government to  assess the success or failure of soil protection policies. It’s hard to understand how the government will know if it has reached its target for sustainable soil management by 2030 without one.”


Dr Barry Rawlins, Soils Team Leader at the British Geological Survey, said:

“The report highlights a clear win-win – increasing soil health and meeting the 4 per mil initiative (to increase organic matter) that we signed up to at COP21. We need to see government take a strong lead on this, encouraging farmers and land managers to improve their soils.”


Prof. Phil Haygarth, Soil Scientist at Lancaster University, said:

“Soils are essential for underpinning our society and we need to recognise this. Their role is absolutely fundamental to the provision of food and clean water, along with a wide range of ecosystem goods and services for our economy. Soils are arguably the most complex systems on Earth but are intimately linked to human security and the integrity of the wider environment. Any lack of recognition of this in terms of funding is just short sighted and will inevitably lead to environmental and societal problems in the future.”


Prof. Kirk Semple, Professor of Environmental Microbiology at Lancaster University, said:

“This is an interesting and well written report which does not pull any punches. There are over 300,000 potentially contaminated land sites in the UK, which may represent a source of harm to the environment and human health. Under Part 2A of the Environmental Protection Act, the UK has developed pragmatic mechanisms for site-specific risk assessment and risk management of contaminated land to protect vulnerable receptors. With this in place, low value contaminated land may be ‘recycled’ and used more profitably. However, the reduction in funding to support contaminated land risk assessment and management, either by the UK environment agencies or by local authorities, has meant that this has become extremely difficult.”


‘Soil Health’ will be published by the Environmental Audit Committee at 00.01 UK time Thursday 2 June 2016, which is also when the embargo will lift. 


Declaled interests

Prof. Haygarth is the outgoing President of the British Society of Soil Science

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