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News & Updates: Summer 2021

We hope everyone is well and has been able to enjoy a restful summer. We have been incredibly busy with various projects and virtual events as the topic of soil health continues to attract an increasing amount of interest across the public and private sectors.

Projects
1. Defra’s Sustainable Farming Incentive

On June 30th, Environment Secretary George Eustice announced that the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) scheme, one of three new schemes that will help England transition from CAP direct payments and pave the way to the introduction of Environmental Land Management in 2024, is “going to start with soils, a better understanding of our soils and incentivising farmers to be custodians of their soils”. The same day, Defra published more details on the scheme, including more information on payments as well as guidance on the two Soil Standards, the Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard and Improved Grassland Soils Standard. These will underpin the scheme that farmers will be able to sign up to from spring 2022. We have published a briefing note on soil’s critical place in the SFI roll out and we will be hosting a workshop on the topic later in the year.
Read our Briefing Note on the SFI and Soil

You can also find a table on both Soil Standards on our website with the requirements for Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced levels.

Requirements for the Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard
Requirements for the Improved Grassland Soils Standard

In May, we also published a briefing note on where soil sits within the SFI pilot. The application deadline for the pilot has been extended to 29th September.

Read our Briefing Note on the SFI Pilot

2. Review of England's National Soil Maps

Defra has commissioned us to help explore how England’s soil maps could better support the delivery of environmental policies and national commitments. We plan to hold a workshop in the autumn 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.

3. Soil Carbon

The consortium we are part of whose aim is to develop a UK Farm Soil Carbon Code has been awarded a grant under the Environment Agency’s Investment Readiness Fund to develop and pilot the Code. The project will be led by the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South-West (FWAG) and the work will fill critical knowledge gaps to enable the responsible scaling of agricultural carbon investments.

Find out more on the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code

We hosted the virtual “Landscape to carbonscape: the roadmap to a soil carbon market place” public and stakeholder event on July 14th in collaboration with the Soil Association. The event explored the mechanisms whereby soil carbon is being bought and sold in the UK and overseas, and the various issues that need addressing before a robust, scalable and coherent marketplace can be established.

The event heard from businesses already involved in monetising carbon sequestration and experts in nature-based carbon code development. There were also contributions from among the 250+ participants, many of whom were experts from the worlds of finance, policy-making, farming, science and environmental campaigning.

Read the Workshop Summary
Watch or re-watch the event

4. Soil in the Supply Chain

We have been commissioned by the WWF/Tesco partnership to carry out an evaluation of the various soil health initiatives pursued by UK food and drink brands to establish a greater understanding of the impact these initiatives have on soil health, as well as the motivation behind them, and the methods, timeframes and metrics used. We have been in correspondence with the businesses that operate in the UK that we estimate to have the largest ‘footprint’ and impact on UK agriculture practices. We have also gathered feedback from experts at relevant organisations (WRAP, LEAF, NIAB) and will be summarising these discussions and research in a report. 

The report’s outcomes will be discussed in a workshop to be hosted in the autumn with participating businesses and other stakeholders.

5. Microplastics in Soil

We have developed a briefing note alongside the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA), setting out the issues associated with plastic contamination to soils and proposing solutions using existing alternatives and systems that can avoid much of this contamination.

Read our Briefing Note on Plastic Pollution to Soil

6. uksoils

In June, uksoils and the Soil Care Network hosted a SoilsTalk webinar (an online series of regular debates on hot soil topics) on how we can create a buzz around soil. ‘Bringing Soils to Life: Getting the public excited about soils’ brought together three expert environmental communicators, Louisa Ziane, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Toast Ale, Hannah Kapff, founder and managing director of Curious PR, and Josh Toussaint-Strauss, journalist and producer for the Guardian, to ask what soil-folk can learn from other environmental campaigns, including the tactics, messages, data and channels that can help us bring soils to life for a wider audience.

Our Executive co-Director Matthew Orman chaired the talk with Anna Krzywoszynska of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield as moderator. Over 80 participants attended and shared their actions and ideas on how we can unleash people’s creativity around soil conservation and protection. We will be summarising the key takeaways from this event in a short report.

Watch or re-watch the Talk
POLICY

England’s Environment Bill entered Committee Stage in the House of Lords in mid-June. We collaborated with the Soil Association to urge Peers to support the tabled amendment to include the word soil in the definition of 'natural environment'. Two similar amendments on this topic (amendments 110 and 112) were debated in the House of Lords in July. We continue to campaign for soils to be properly recognised in the Bill in collaboration with the Soil Association and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.

ENGAGEMENT

We have continued to meet (virtually) with a wide range of NGOs, government officials, practitioners, industry leaders, funding organisations and academics these past months to inform our various workstreams. These have included Natural England, the Environment Agency, the James Hutton Institute, the Welsh government, the Royal Society, Cranfield University, UKCEH, Rothamsted Research, Farming the Future, Sustain and the Sustainable Food Trust amongst others.

We have been invited to be part of the Sustainable Food Trust’s Metrics Working Group for the Global Farm Metric (GFM) to help shape the soil component of this ambitious project. The GFM is a harmonised tool that measures social, economic and environmental impacts of farming in a common way that is comprehensive and compatible with existing assurance and certifications schemes.

In June, we attended Groundswell, the regenerative agriculture show and conference in Hertfordshire. We are enthused to see such growing interest in soil health as the event attracted over 3,500 visitors taking part in live demonstrations, seminars, workshops and exhibitions on soil regeneration and mixed-farming systems.

        Suzy Fogg (Sustainable Food Trust) and Matthew Orman (SSA) at Groundswell.

We have been invited to join the Interim Office for Environmental Protection’s Scrutiny and Advice Stakeholder group, which met for the first time in July. We have also joined the Nature Recovery Network partnership.

In July we were invited to join the Digital Task Force Planning Environmental Workshop. The Task Force is an independent panel to raise awareness, expertise and skills to empower the planning profession in the digital era and aims to unlock the full potential of the planning profession to join forces with other built and natural environment professions to tackle the challenges of our time.

We have also been in conversation with the Soils Training and Research Studentships (STARS), a UKRI funded Centre for Doctoral Training, to discuss potential placements for students taking part in their studentships.

Throughout these past months, our Executive co-Director, Ellen Fay, has been taking part in the Anti-Oppression Programme workshops, alongside the Food Ethics Council, Food Farming and Countryside Commission, Sustain and Feedback, to address issues of diversity in the environmental sector.

INTERNAL NEWS

Our updated and redesigned website is now live and we are excited to share this new format with you. We hope you will be able to learn more about our work and achieve a greater understanding of the soil related policies taking shape in the UK through this new layout.

Visit our Website!

Having successfully applied for Funding Plus at the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, our executive team has been provided with capacity building training throughout these past months. We’d like to thank the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation who have offered us this support for the second year. 

We would also like to thank the other organisations that continue to fund us and allow us to carry out our projects, including the SEM Trust, Yeo Valley and The Real Olive Company.

We thank you for your continued interest in and support for the SSA and we hope you enjoy the final days of summer. 

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.
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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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