Efra committee launches inquiry looking at how government can support soil health targets

The importance of soil health to growing food, promoting biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions will be investigated during a new parliamentary inquiry. 

Soil Health is under the microscope

Soil Health is under the microscope

Source: Flickr/Chris Waits

Soil in the UK has become heavily degraded over the years through over-use, erosion, compaction or pollution, MPs said in launching the inquiry. Arable land in the UK, which makes up over half of all the country’s farmland, is also heavily depleted of carbon. 

The inquiry, by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee, will investigate how the government intends to meet its goal of having all soil “managed sustainably” by 2030.  

It is not currently clear how soil health will be measured by the government, MPs noted. This will need to be clarified because of new legislation currently being rolled out that will encourage farmers to provide ‘public goods’ including healthy soil, among other environmental benefits, in return for farm payments from the government.  

Efra committee chair Sir Robert Goodwill said: “Soil health matters to everyone – it’s central to the food we eat, the ecosystems we are a part of and our efforts to address climate change. It is vital that the government brings farmers and land managers along with any reforms it makes.  

“Policy changes must be ambitious enough to turn the tide of soil degradation, but also flexible and appealing to those who work the land. Any reforms must also cover a broad range of soils”. 

The committee is seeking views on the following questions: 

- How can the government measure progress towards its goal of making all soils sustainably managed by 2030? What are the challenges in gathering data to measure soil health and how can these barriers be overcome? 

- Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/land managers maintain and/or improve soil health? If not, how should they be improved? 

- Will the standards under Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) have sufficient ambition and flexibility to restore soils across different types of agricultural land? What are the threats and opportunities for soil health as ELMs are introduced? 

- What changes do we need to see in the wider food and agriculture sector to encourage better soil management and how can the government support this transition? 

- What does the UK government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination? 

People with experience in the areas covered by the inquiry are invited to submit written evidence, and the deadline for submissions is 5 February 2023.