News & Updates: Autumn 2021

We hope that everyone is well as the end of Autumn approaches. This has been a particularly busy quarter of the year for us as soil is currently enjoying significant, even unprecedented attention – thanks to the rise of the Regenerative Farming movement and Defra’s recent announcement of the creation of a Soil Health Action Plan for England. We continue to work collaboratively with both public and private bodies to ensure such initiatives align and result in positive outcomes for soil health.


1. England's Environment Bill 

In recent months we collaborated with the Soil Association and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust to lobby and brief peers and MPs for soils to be properly reflected in England’s Environment Bill. Whilst an amendment tabled by Baroness Bennett was ultimately rejected in the Commons, our pressure - and an impassioned Lords debate secured a government commitment to publish its Soil Health Action Plan for England (SHAPE) by the end of the year. This Plan - which will be out for consultation in the Spring will be the priority for us throughout 2022, starting with a presentation on what is needed from the SHAPE in collaboration with the Soil Association at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January.

Read our summary of the House of Lords debate on soil

2. COP26

This weekend at COP26, we were encouraged to see an alliance of 45 countries led by the United Kingdom committing to address the quickening destruction of ecosystems under the 'Sustainable Agriculture Policy Action Agenda for the Transition to Sustainable Agriculture and Global Action Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture'. We noted the UK government’s commitment to engage 75% of farmers in low carbon practices by 2030.

There seems to have been a breakthrough in recognising that nature and land use are essential to meeting the Paris goals, and addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. However, while the majority of countries now refer to agriculture or land-use in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), specific targets and implementation roadmaps are lacking. 

In England, the report on Greenhouse gas removal methods and their potential UK deployment commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (one of the 21 reports underpinning England’s Net Zero Strategy) acknowledged the ‘vital role’ that soil carbon will play in removing CO2 from the atmosphere and that soil carbon sequestration is among the more mature land-based options that may be implemented rapidly to help meet near term targets. 

Read our response to the BEIS February Call for Evidence

We will be writing a briefing note later in the month on what these commitments and statements mean for soil health later this year.

1. Soil Structure Monitoring Methodology

Defra has commissioned us to work towards the development of a soil structure monitoring methodology. This project will build on the work and the specialist workshop we hosted in March to establish consensus on the metrics. This next phase of the project will establish benchmarks for organic matter, earthworms and visual soil assessment through the soil profile across different soil types, land uses and climate classes. The aim is to enable farmers and other land managers to measure progress with future government schemes.

This work was referred to by Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, in her written statement on the SHAPE in October, following its announcement in the House of Lords.

Soil structure from clayey, gleyed soil [photo by Tim Harrod]

2. Review of England's National Soil Maps

This summer, Defra commissioned us to help explore how England’s soil maps can better support the delivery of environmental policies and national commitments. We hosted a stakeholder workshop in October attended by policy makers, experts and practitioners to discuss the use of the existing soil data and maps as well as the potential for developing and updating the maps through new technologies such as earth observation.

Future Requirements for England’s Soil Maps Workshop Agenda

The current SSA-Defra project could form the basis for a full review of the soil maps of England. At the SSA, we hope this will be the first step towards enabling England’s soil maps resource to fully support the journey towards sustainably managed soils throughout the country.

Read our Thought Piece on why soil maps are important

3. Soil Carbon

As part of the Consortium working on the development of a UK Farm Soil Carbon Code (UKFSCC), we are hosting a second virtual stakeholder event on 16th November 3-5pm. The workshop will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to find out more about the progress on the Code’s creation, to discuss some of the scientific and practical issues at stake and give feedback on the Code programme as currently outlined. 

Register to the UKFSCC Stakeholder Workshop

A series of consultative workshops will run throughout the Code’s development. These are open to all but are of particular interest to farmer groups, investors, policy makers and anyone running their own soil carbon sequestration and monetisation projects.

Sign up to the UKFSCC news and updates

In September we also responded to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry on nature-based solutions for climate change, highlighting the role of a soil carbon code in mitigating climate change and achieving the UK’s ambition of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (response not yet publishable).

4. Soil in the Supply Chain

Earlier this year the WWF and Tesco partnership commissioned us to research the scale and ambition of soil initiatives undertaken by major UK food businesses. Our findings and recommendations to these businesses will be published in a report due to launch on 5th December to coincide with World Soil Day. 

The report’s outcomes were discussed in a stakeholder workshop in October with participating businesses and other stakeholders. The workshop also debated the viability and merit of a more long-term, aligned position by supply chain players and the tools that might achieve this, for example the inclusion of soil in a new and existing accreditation/labelling scheme or the involvement of a convening organization.

With this in mind, the launch of the report will be accompanied by the establishment of an industry platform designed to drive best practices throughout the industry.

5. Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

Following the announcement in July that soils standards will lie at the heart of the proposed SFI, our focus is now that it delivers clear, ambitious and tangible outcomes - through guidance, metrics and a regulatory baseline. A workshop to that effect is planned for early 2022.

6. uksoils

On the 21st October, uksoils and the Soil Care Network hosted a SoilTalks webinar (an online series of regular debates on hot soil topics): ‘Soil Health: A New Buzzword or a New Paradigm?’. The panel of experts, consisting of Prof. Johannes Lehmann from Cornell University, Joel Williams, an independent agricultural consultant and Dr Richard Smith, soil technical specialist at the Environment Agency, discussed whether soil health is a promising rallying point for different interests around soil conservation.

Watch or re-watch the Talk

You can also continue discussing all the past SoilTalks topics online using the recently launched uksoils forum.

Join the SoilTalks Forum

We continue to engage with a variety of key stakeholders, including NGOs, government officials, practitioners, industry leaders, funding organisations and academics, both to shape our projects and outputs as well as bring the “soils piece” to their work. This has included the Environment Agency, the UK Center for Ecology and Hydrology (UK CEH), Natural England, the James Hutton Institute, the Welsh government, Cranfield University, Map of Ag, Ordnance Survey and the British Geological Survey (BGS).

We have also engaged with the Earl of Caithness, Baroness Bennett and other peers on the Environment Bill, and have met with the Climate Change Committee on the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code.

We have been working closely with the Soil Association on a number of projects, including the recent launch of their new report ‘Saving our Soils’, building on their previous ‘Seven Ways to Save our Soils’, published five years ago. The report calls for seven actions to restore and build soil health, with recommendations for both farmers and the government and includes an assessment of the current UK soils policy by our SSA Directors (p.42).

Read the Saving our Soils report

We’d like to thank you all for your continued interest in and support for the SSA and we hope you enjoy the soon approaching festive season! 

The SSA Team: Ellen, Matt, Anicée, Nev, Kevin and Robert.

To keep up to date with soil news from around the UK and further afield follow us on Twitter @soilsalliance and watch out for our Week in Soil update, published every Friday morning. Have some news or a soil-related event to share with our community? Email
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