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News & Updates: Winter 2021

We hope that everyone is well during these winter months and our thoughts go out to all those continuing to be affected by the ongoing pandemic. As the year comes to an end, we thought we’d give you an overview of our main activities and achievements of this past year.

Soil continues to enjoy unprecedented policy, public, private sector and stakeholder attention and we are thrilled to see its importance reflected through a wide range of initiatives. This has translated into an incredibly busy year for us, as we look to ensure such initiatives align and result in positive outcomes for soil health, and we look forward to next year as many of these develop further – promising to make 2022 our busiest year ever!

A ROUND UP OF 2021
Click here for a full timeline our achievements in 2021
THIS QUARTER'S NEWS

1. Soil in the UK Supply Chain

On December 3rd we published the report Soil in the UK Supply Chain: How the food and drink industry can support the transition to sustainable, regenerative agriculture and Net Zero, ahead of World Soil Day on 5th December. The report was commissioned by the WWF and Tesco Partnership to examine the soil health initiatives pursued by major food and drink businesses in the UK.

Our online research and interviews with 25 retailers and manufacturers identified over 50 business-led initiatives that directly or indirectly influence the management of the soil by their farming suppliers. However, it also demonstrated how these efforts will not have a tangible impact on Net Zero, biodiversity or sustainable farming outcomes without a more ambitious, strategic, collaborative and targeted approach.

The report sets out 5 key recommendations to these businesses and we will be creating an industry platform for knowledge exchange, co-operation and the development of a pan-industry commitment on soil health in February 2022.         

Read our Soil in the UK Supply Chain Report

2. Defra's Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI)

Earlier in December, Defra published further details on the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) which will begin with two soil standards at the start of 2022. We have championed soil’s place as a priority in Defra’s Environment Land Management scheme (ELM) and are pleased to see the importance of soil health recognised and paid for by the SFI as the first of the three schemes under ELM. Our focus is now that this delivers clear, ambitious and tangible outcomes - through effective guidance, standardised metrics and a regulatory baseline. We will be hosting a stakeholder workshop to that effect in February 2022.

3. UK Farm Soil Carbon Code

On November 16th the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code (UKFSCC) Consortium hosted the second in its series of workshops giving stakeholders the opportunity 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. 

Watch or re-watch the workshop

The next step in the code’s development will be the publication early next year of our review of 12 existing farm soil carbon protocols from around the world which will inform the content and scope of the UK code.

The third workshop will take place in early 2022 and will focus on the alignment of the Code with government policy making.

If you are involved in a carbon sequestration project that is already demonstrating innovation, delivering environmental impact or generating economic benefits to land managers, and would like to share your process or results with us, we’d like to invite you to fill out this form:

Share your Soil Carbon Project
If you have not already registered for the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code updates, you can do so here.

4. Soil Structure Monitoring Scheme

We continue to work on the development of Defra’s Soil Structure Monitoring Scheme for England. We are collaborating with experts at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) and the Environment Agency to build on the work we carried out in March. We are in the process of establishing 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 schemes.

Defra commissioned this project as a first step in developing an informal target for soil structure in England. It will be used as a proxy metric for measuring progress over time towards sustainably managed soils in England by 2030.

6. uksoils

In celebration of World Soil Day on the 5th December, the uksoils team worked with Tinmouse Animation Studio bringing earthworms to life to encourage people to step outside and see if they can spot these soil heroes under their feet!

Watch video & learn more about the #30minworms survey method

The last SoilTalks of the year ‘Nature based solutions: soil-water connections for sustainable landscapes’ on the 13th December heard from experts giving examples from around the globe on the vital interactions between soils and water and the potential of nature based solutions in promoting and maintaining healthy ecosystems for people and the planet. A recording will be available on the uksoils website shortly.

Watch or re-watch previous SoilTalks
ENGAGEMENT

In October, our collaborative lobbying work with the Soil Association and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and an impassioned Lords debate helped secure a government commitment to publish its Soil Health Action Plan for England (SHAPE). 

This Plan - which will be out for consultation in the Spring, will be the priority for us throughout 2022, and we are pleased to confirm that we will begin next year with a session at the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) ‘Getting Soils in SHAPE - Putting Soils at the Heart of UK Farming Policy’ on Friday 7th January. In this joint session with the Soil Association and WWF, we will be discussing what is needed from the SHAPE and launching our own consultation among members and other stakeholders to ensure their views are shared with government as the plan comes together.

Get online tickets to the ORFC

This month the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published two papers demonstrating the scale of soil contamination caused by plastics used in agriculture. This reinforces earlier warnings that microplastic contamination of soil could be even worse than in the oceans. We were successful in ensuring this received media coverage to urge UK Government action. 

Read the Guardian coverage
Read ENDS coverage
Read our June briefing note on plastic contamination to soils
POLICY

In November, we responded to the Scottish Government's consultation to inform the development of agricultural policy and the replacement to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Read our response to the Agricultural Transition in Scotland Consultation

We also responded to the DAERA's consultation on a draft Northern Ireland Food Strategy Framework, highlighting the importance of soil health in the framework's priorities.

Read our response to the Northern Ireland Food Strategy Framework Consultation

We’d like to thank you and all of our broader community of soil enthusiasts for the advice, support and guidance that have made our recent achievements possible. We look forward to working with you in 2022. We wish you all a happy holiday season, and the very best for this coming year.

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 info@sustainablesoils.org
We'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have donated to the SSA. We're extremely grateful for all contributions, large & small.
Click below to support our work.
Donate to the Sustainable Soils Alliance
We currently receive all of our funding from grant-making foundations and individual donors and only accept support that does not compromise our independence and therefore our ability to engage with the widest possible community of individuals and stakeholders.
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