News & Updates: Autumn 2019
Whilst the work of parliament has stalled somewhat this quarter we've taken the opportunity to expand into new territory, also continuing dialogue with government and policy makers where opportunities have arisen. Read on for our latest news including consultation responses, meeting updates and where you can find us in the press.
Four SSA Advisors - Prof Chris Collins (SSP), Elizabeth Stockdale (NIAB), Stephen Briggs (Innovation for Agriculture) and Richard Smith (Environment Agency) - were involved in the joint National Trust / Soil Security Programme project to develop a standardised, manageable and meaningful system of on-farm soil health monitoring metrics. A methodology aimed at establishing the baseline quality of farm soil and what consequential actions should be taken to maintain or improve its health using these metrics was also developed.
These metrics and methodology have been recommended to Defra for inclusion in the development of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Read the recommendations to Defra here.
In light of this progress, we brought the Environment Agency and Defra together at Yeo Valley to discuss the question of on-farm soil education, advice and guidance. The plethora of un-joined up guidance, loss of a central framework for standard Government / industry-approved best practice on assessing soil condition, and lack of public open access to national soil data were highlighted, as were the increasing commercial stresses on farmers as a result of a focus on production over husbandry. We will be presenting a full report of the event on our website in due course. 
We’re delighted to announce we have embarked on our first corporate partnership, with the Real Olive Company. Trees are a vital indicator of soil health, and the olive tree – one of Europe’s iconic tree species and the source of one of the continent’s most iconic products – provides a fascinating case study of the inter-relationship between soil, plant and human health. Soil health is a guiding principle for ROCo. when identifying farmers to work with, seeking out those that use traditional methods to support health of land and biodiversity. We see their work as a best practice example of supplier-producer relations and look forward to exploring opportunities for collaborative research and projects with them in the coming months.
We held our first fundraising event in September, gathering members, champions, like-minds and soil stakeholders for a night of local food and quality entertainment hosted by our brilliant friends and supporters Yeo Valley. We see the event as a celebration of the community we’ve created, progress made and the commitment to continue working together for sustainable UK soils. Special thanks to everyone that helped us to raise over £20,000 to go towards continuation of our projects focused on the supply chain, carbon sequestration/climate change, and biodiversity.
We held the second meeting of our Supply Chain project in September, convening representatives of major UK retailers to discuss ways to facilitate a widespread movement towards sustainable soils across UK suppliers. Dr Jeanette Whitaker (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) presented on the fundamentals of soil carbon, and Dr Jess Davies (Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business) presented on the business case for sustainable soils.
Wide-ranging discussions followed including debate on the role of biochar, current supermarket activity and retailer perspectives, the potential of collaborative initiatives and how best to normalise the ‘soil health conversation’ in the public sphere. It was agreed that a map of the soil education landscape would be a useful starting point, and a resultant proposal focusing on the UK’s Soil Knowledge Economy is currently with delegates for consideration.
This quarter we have welcomed Alice Hirons, a Masters student specialising in Soil Biology at Wageningen University, on board as our first intern. Alice is providing support for the work of our soil carbon and climate change project which has been picking up speed since the summer. Look out for her reflections on the experience as her time with us comes to an end in February 2020.
It’s been a busy period for government consultations, with the SSA submitting responses to the following:

EFRA Peatland Inquiry Highlighting the urgency of restoration and protection for English peatlands in recognition of the vital role they play as a unique habitat and carbon store.

EFRA Net Zero Inquiry Providing background information on carbon sequestration and agriculture’s use of active soil organic carbon increase to contribute to the sector’s net zero emissions strategy.

Defra National Food Strategy Presenting healthy soil as a key component for achieving the strategy’s objectives, as a prerequisite for healthy food and sustainable, resilient agriculture, a foundation for plant and animal biodiversity, and a crucial tool for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Economics of Biodiversity Spotlighting the lack of consideration within government of the economic value of soil and the ecosystem services it provides as a fundamental pillar of biodiversity and terrestrial.

Sustainable Farming & Our Land: Welsh Farming consultation 2019 Calling for soil health to be included as a distinct environmental benefit in its own right alongside clean atmosphere, high water quality and biodiversity.
Read all our consultation responses on our website here.
The SSA team joined forces with delegates from Yeo Valley on a trip to the Eden Project for a roundtable on the soils narrative and public engagement. We traced the engagement journey from awareness and understanding to individual behaviour change, the sparking of a wider movement and finally to policy change via an emerging voting issue. Exciting ideas for cultural soils projects and events surfaced: we look forward to developing these with our partners. Our public engagement plans also led to an interesting meeting with Natalie Fee to discuss City to Sea’s success in gaining traction with the plastic pollution issue, at which we gained some useful pointers for further research in to microplastics in soil which we will be pursuing going forward.
Matt and Elly met Guardian columnist and environmental campaigner, George Monbiot, in September to introduce the Alliance, explain our work and share views on the state of soils – and the steps needed to address them. The meeting was partly prompted by George’s Natural Climate Solutions initiative which called for urgent investigation into the carbon storage capacity of aerated soils, and we shared with him our plans to shine a spotlight on this topic for the benefit of policy makers and stakeholders. We also discussed the availability of nationwide soil health data and the importance of making this more easily accessible for land management and policy making purposes. 
In October Elly and Matt met with Emma Howard-Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, at their Bristol offices. The meeting provided a helpful follow-up to our parliamentary Economics of Soil event at which Emma kindly spoke on the Agency’s behalf. She gave further advice about the importance of reaching out to non-soil-specialist audiences, including business, finance and technology: both to grow the community of interested stakeholders and also to provide a new and more dynamic narrative around soil, one which highlights research and innovation and soil’s carbon sequestration potential – with an eye on the UK hosting COP 26 in Glasgow in 2020.
Matt took part in the recent Sustain Alliance Farming Working Party meeting alongside other leading farming and environmental NGOs. The group addressed the full range of relevant post-Brexit policy initiatives including the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill – announced in the Queen’s speech but will have to return for first reading after the election - and the Environmental Land Management scheme which will be the subject of Sustain’s event at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January.
We’ve also produced a healthy crop of articles, blog posts and press contributions on a range of soil-related subjects:

Rewarding soil carbon sequestration: The challenges ahead
Director Matthew Orman produced a piece for SSA partners the Sustainable Food Trust on the challenges and opportunities for the inclusion of soil carbon sequestration in the government’s new agricultural payment schemes. He reflects on the spotlight on soil carbon as a key player in climate change mitigation and suggests an “approaching watershed in soil carbon policymaking. However, various obstacles lie in the way.”

The quest to bring soil health to Westminster
Executive Director Ellen Fay wrote for the Riverford blog Wicked Leeks on the founding principles of the SSA, the struggles and successes of engaging government with soils and the relief that people “seem to be finding it less and less tedious to talk about soil.”

Defragmenting UK soils policy - the journey so far…
Comms & Content coordinator Ursula also covered the sticky subject of soils and policy in a guest post for SSA members Sectormentor for Soils focusing on the source of our successes as “a persistent chipping away at the rock-face of government, an endless search for the killer questions necessary to achieve our goals and, above all, – a non-partisan, relationship-based approach….breaking down silos, building relationship and attempting to unite with common leadership and purpose”

The Journey to Inner Space
Ursula also reflected on “the intrinsic interconnectedness of people, nature and climate” for the Avon Wildlife Trust blog; and, in particular, why one fundamental puzzle piece – soil – is still so consistently overlooked. Her comments were later included in the Trust’s Bristol Post column on the theme of the Secret Life of Soil.

Save Our Soil
We featured in the Western Daily Press Farming supplement at the end of October along with local farmers working to foster good soil health on their land: Tim and Mary Mead of Yeo Valley and Peter Grieg of Piper’s Farm in Devon.
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
With all thanks and best wishes from the SSA team,
Ellen, Matt, Nev and Ursula 
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have donated to the SSA. We're extremely grateful for all donations, large and small. Click the button to help us grow.
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