The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee publishes findings to its inquiry into soil health and urges government to take action 

Set targets to improve soil health, EFRA urges government

Set targets to improve soil health, EFRA urges government

The cross-party parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is calling on Westminster to set statutory targets on UK soil health and put it on the same footing as water and air quality within government climate change policy.

EFRA’s appeal comes as it publishes a report on its inquiry into soil health today (5 December) to coincide with World Soil Day.

The committee emphasised that soil health monitoring must be on a continuous, ongoing basis – not a one-off event, and should be on the same scale as funding for the country’s other critical assets – water and air.

Its report calls on the government to fund the widespread, standardised testing of soil through its Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and to work with industry on an agreed set of metrics of soil health by 2024 as well as definitions of sustainable farming.

MPs also recommend that government should aim ‘for nearly all farmers and growers (90 per cent or more) to be part of an ELM scheme by 2040’.

Its report also calls on the government to make sure that sustainable farming is profitable farming, by addressing unsustainable supply chain demands and critically by ensuring that the ELM schemes pay attractive rates for a wide range of ambitious soil-improvement measures.

While the report highlights the importance and the potential of ELMs to improve soil health, it points out that ELMs alone ”cannot be the whole story”.

The committee recommends the introduction, by 2035, of a regulatory framework to focus on preventing soil degradation and contamination across various sectors, including construction and planning, as well as agriculture.

With soil waste making up 58 per cent of tonnage received by landfills, MPs recommend that these laws should aim to prevent soil waste ending up in landfill.

Commenting on the report, EFRA chair Sir Robert Goodwill said: “Sustaining and restoring the country’s soil is essential for our ability to grow food and protect this vital habitat. Threats to soil health are in turn threats to our domestic food supply. For too long soil has been treated differently to water and air, but our Committee’s report says that it is about that time that soil health is considered on an equal footing with these other critical assets.

“Problems of soil degradation, contamination and soil waste can be addressed through the use of sustainable soil management practices and now is the time for the government to lead on this.

”The government’s ELM schemes are a good start, but we call on the government to make these schemes more ambitious, aiming to get nearly all farmers involved and ensuring that they adopt a variety of sustainable soil management practices across their land. We also encourage the government to use ELMs to fund the collection of the data we desperately need to understand our soils.

”It is not only farmers who have an impact on our soils, but other actors in various sectors. Our report recommends that government introduces regulations to protect soils across England, to ensure that everyone is playing their part in protecting soil health.”

Soil is vital to sustaining life on Earth, producing food and sustaining rich ecosystems. Yet in recent years soil in the UK has become heavily degraded through over-use, erosion, compaction, or pollution. The EFRA Committee’s inquiry examined how the government can turn the tide on soil degradation.