News & Updates: Autumn 2020

We hope that everyone is well, and our thoughts go out to the people, families, business and organisations affected by the continuing pandemic. You may have noticed the delay in the appearance of this newsletter, as you will know, these are busy times for environment and agricultural policy.


We are pleased to say our day-to-day routine has largely been unaffected by the changes brought on by Covid.  As an organisation that is light on its feet, with no fixed office space, we are well equipped for working from home and have adapted quickly to the challenges of Zoom, Teams, Skype - even the old-fashioned telephone - and have managed to keep projects and lobbying work up to pace. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation also generously supported us with an emergency grant, which offsets other funding being held up or impossible due to Covid 19.


1. A History of Soil Guidance

We have been looking at the history of soil guidance. We carried out an informal audit of the publicly available (on-line) soil management guidance developed over the last twenty years to help farmers measure, monitor, manage and improve their soils. Here is the published list of these resources and background detail (date, organisation responsible etc.):

The list of Existing Guidance

The research revealed an abundance of soil guidance developed and promoted by a wide variety of organisations - Defra, NGOs, trade bodies, even supermarkets. Whilst there is no lack of good guidance – indeed the range and variety of responsible authors indicates a healthy interest in the subject matter, there are inconsistencies in the approach and advice contained within them, which risk becoming a source of confusion to farmers and other land managers. 

To accompany the research, we carried out an analysis of these different mechanisms – which also explains how soil health has been gradually relegated as a political priority over recent decades.  

Read our Analysis

It is this neglect that has led to a lack of clear, up-to-date, authoritative advice and guidance for farmers on soil health, something we will be campaigning for via ELM and other mechanisms in the months and years ahead.  If you can think of any more examples, please share them with us via:

2. Soil Quality Indicators 

We have been working with our science panel to address the issues faced when trying to apply and interpret Soil Quality Indicators (SQIs) with environmental outcomes in mind. More specifically, this work seeks adequate ways to ensure that SQIs are easily communicable and understandable, clearly demonstrates how soil delivers critical public goods, and how they can help achieve sustainable land management and usage.

We will be holding a workshop at the end of October where the science panel will drill into this issue along with Defra officials from the ELM department. 

As mentioned earlier in the year, WWF has helped us get this project off the ground, and we have been advising a major retailer about the best ways to drive soil awareness through their supply chain.


We submitted a formal response to Defra’s ELM policy discussion document, highlighting soil’s unique ability to deliver the public goods stated in the Agricultural bill. This was based on extensive consultation with our Science Panel, Strategic Advisory Board and others, so many thanks to all those who contributed to the process.

You can read our response here:

Our ELM Response

and here is a summary of the main points we looked to raise:

1.    Compliance with relevant soil and water regulations, including the 8 Farming Rules for Water, should be the baseline condition for receipt of any public money.  

2.    Regular soil testing – especially for soil organic matter - should be embedded in the scheme, and an expectation of all participants. 

3.    Payments should be allocated according to a blend of outcomes and activities - activities as a proxy to start with – then outcomes (especially soil organic matter build-up) after a period of time. 

4.    Universal soil-specific guidance should be developed embedded throughout the scheme – and implemented through consistent advice, measurement and monitoring techniques, practices and outcomes.  

5.    Farm advice on soil should be fully independent and accessible where it is most needed - at the beginning of a new tenancy or the start of any transition. 

We will be hosting an expert workshop later in the month to discuss these points and more, and explore what ELMs would look like if it had soil health at its heart.


The SSA has joined and will be hosting a consortium of UK soil scientists and international carbon protocol experts looking to investigate and potentially establish a UK Farm and Soil Carbon Code that will allow standard quantification of farm carbon capture and monetisation through different incentive schemes or carbon markets.  

Phase one of the work will consist of a Rapid Review of existing soil carbon offset protocols (CAR, VERRA, NORI and others) used around the world as well as an assessment of ‘user’ needs for both UK farms and carbon buyers, to define protocol development needs.  These will be summarised in a report including recommendations about how to make a protocol applicable to UK soil and farm carbon.

Our role will be to provide a platform for stakeholder and policy-maker engagement and communications of the project.

We are in the process of approaching both public and private sector sources for funding for the project which we hope will make a valuable and much needed evidence-led contribution to the soil carbon debate.


We are excited to be part of an ambitious new initiative that aims to kickstart a nationwide public appreciation and understanding of the economic, societal and ecological importance of soil health. We are partnering with the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Earthwatch, and the University of Sheffield to bring together, an online, one-stop-shop for the most engaging, innovative and informative public-facing information and education resources relating to soil health. 

This project aligns with the EU Mission for Soil Health and Food which has set the goal for 75% of European soils to be healthy by 2030

We are currently bringing together existing content such as primary school material, apps for soil monitoring and art programmes aimed at a wide variety of audiences. The website will be a soil hub for students, teachers, farmers, artists and any individual or organisation that seeks to learn more about our soils.

A critical element of the work will be the identification and signposting of ‘lighthouses’ and ‘living labs’ - on-farm research initiatives which showcase best practice around soil health from across the UK which can be used to educate and inspire others. A human-interest angle will be provided by a range of soil champions including chefs, gardeners and personalities. Make sure to follow us on Twitter to find out when it will be going live in the coming months – and if you would like to suggest initiatives that should be showcased on UKSoils, please get in touch!


The Sustainable Soils Alliance has created a working group entitled the Sustainable Urban Soils Health Initiative (SUSHI), made up of soil scientists, arboriculturists, landscape architects and local government officers who work in the construction, land development and land management sector. 

There is a lack of awareness around the damaging effects the development sector has on soil functions and the services it provides. Construction activities can have adverse impacts on soil, including diminishing its drainage characteristics, increasing soil compaction, contaminating soils with chemicals, increasing soil erosion and reducing topsoil quality.

SUSHI aims to develop and promote an up-to-date code of practice for the sustainable use of soils on construction sites and to engage planners, designers and the development industry to become more aware of the many benefits of appropriate and considered soil management.

Read our Position Statement

In September we responded to the Environment Agency’s consultation on the 2021 River Basin Management Plan ‘Guide to Challenges and Choices’ in which we highlight how soil management can address agricultural pollution and how we can support the farming sector in finding solutions to maintaining productivity as well as safeguarding our environment.

Read our submission here

Despite Covid, our engagement programme has been characteristically busy. This has included meetings with Defra Undersecretary of State Rebecca Pow, Natural England Chair Tony Juniper and officials from the Environment Agency and the Defra Soils Team. We have also virtually met with sister NGOs and with our stakeholder community including AHDB, CLA, NFU, and LEAF. In July, we participated on the Royal Society Soil structure evidence synthesis and at the Sustain farming group we have been discussing the future of ELMs, the Agricultural Bill and the Environment bill.


We are delighted to announce that we were successful in securing our core funding for the next two years from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We are deeply thankful for their continuing support of our organisation and belief in our cause. We are also very grateful for a grant to pursue our work on soil carbon from SEM Trust, who have supported us over the past three years. 

This summer we formed part of a grouping of food and farming sector NGOs looking to address diversity and inclusivity in the sector.

We are also very pleased to welcome Anicée Defrance onto the team for a 12-month public affairs and public relations internship (Hello!).

And finally, we hope to shortly be launching our new website, so keep an eye out for a new layout and informative content.

To keep up to date with soil news from around the UK and further afield check our events calendar, follow us on twitter @soilsalliance and watch out for our Week in Soil update, published every Friday morning without fail. Have some news or a soil-related event to share with our community? Email

We thank you for your continued interest in and support for the SSA and wish you all the very best for this autumn.


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

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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