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International Year of Soils

2015 was the International Year of Soils (IYS).

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is heading up efforts along with the Global Soil Partnership

Learn more at NRCS’ International Year of Soils webpage.

Events - USA

USA: See USDA IYS National Resources Conservation Service with SSSA (see monthly topics January) Also It's All about the Soilfrom Food Bank.
USDA Science behind healthy soils Soil Health Management 5 questions landowners should ask their farmers
USDANRCS Remembering where our food comes from 3 mins 
USDA The Sport of Soils Role of Carbonic Acid
Global Soil Week
Symphony of the Soil
France Soil Project seeks to soak up carbon and Michael Pollan's support.
My Videos..Bringing Soil animals to lifeStrangle World of Soil Animal Gatsby

United Kingdom

Natural Environment White Paper: the Natural Choice published in 2011 updated Safeguarding our soils. It identified 5 (out of 7) ecosystems where soil quality has declined since 1990. Soil erosion is costing the country £150-250 million/yr. A 4yr research programme will look at how soil degradation affects our soil services and this will determine future priorities.
DEFRA (No mention of IYS in Soils Policy) LandIS - Land information Service
Research Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnical and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are reviewing Defra’s evidence base and the wider scientific literature on soil protection issues. The review will provide further clarity as to where the key risks and opportunities lie in the soil protection landscape.
£1m this year on soil research in Defra’s Sustainable Land and Soils research programme, £5M investment by BBSRC on “Soil and rhizosphere interactions for sustainable agri-ecosystems”) (c. 3 years). £5M investment by the Natural Environment Research Council on Soil Sustainability (c. 3 years).£2.3M on a Centre for Doctoral Training in Soil Science through BBSRC and NERC

British Soil Science Society and Cranfield University - 5 day course 'Dirt Science'.
Lancaster university The world beneath our feet Free online course
Soil Health Special Interest Group launch Sept 8
How much do you know about soil?
Soil Association Soil Quiz

Food Tank  22 Organisations trying to restore soils "According to the recent United Nations report, Status of the World’s Soil Resources,the world can ameliorate soil degradation if more sustainable practices are promptly implemented. "


Science Soil and Human Security says "human security over the next century will be severely threatened by unsustainable soil management practices. Amundsonet al. review recent advances in understanding global soil resources, including how carbon stored in soil responds to anthropogenic warming. Translating this knowledge into practice is the biggest challenge remaining."

Science Soil and Human Security in 21st century says "The future of humanity is intertwined with the future of Earth's soil resources. Soil provides for agriculture, improves water quality, and buffers greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Yet human activities, including agricultural soil erosion, are rapidly degrading soil faster than it is naturally replenished. At this rate, human security over the next century will be severely threatened by unsustainable soil management practices." 

Global Soil Security Symposium Texas 
Soil security requires maintenance and improvement of the soil resource to meet global challenges to produce food, fiber, and fresh water, to contribute to sustainable energy production, adapt to climate changes, and to maintain biodiversity and human health. Those concerned with achieving soil security recognize that attainment involves scientific, economic, and political engagement to effectively and credibly inform political and legal frameworks and implement appropriate actions.
I wrote a blog for FEC 'Save our Soils' alongside Prof Mark Kebblewaite Soil Science Ltd, and Louise Payton of Soil Association to highlight World Soils Day. 

The Environment Agency’s ‘State of Soils in England & Wales’ is now 10 years old. Since then we’ve seen a Soil Action Plan in the mid noughties, where Soil Organic Matter (SOM) was considered a headline indicator of soil health. Where has that disappeared to? The last sign of any policy was Labour’s 2009 Safeguarding our soils

As a minimum, Soil Protection Reviews are required of farmers seeking cross compliance subsidies, but they don’t involve much – basically don’t burn off crops (unless it’s heather for grouse!).

The EU’s Seventh Environment Action Programme recognises that soil degradation is a serious challenge and its aim is ‘that by 2020 land is managed sustainably in the Union…and commits the EU and its Member States to increasing efforts to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter.’

However, recently the NFU and the current government managed to block Europe’s latest attempt to protect our soils – the EU Soils Directive, although Labour’s Environment Secretary wasn’t too happy with it either. 

There is a crisis for some UK soils, with bigger, heavier machines compacting soil resulting in less drainage and erosion . Arable land, the government estimates, looses 2.2 million tonnes lost each year based on stats in State of Soils England & Wales 2004Earlier Cranfield briefing on UK Soil Policy. And then there is the lack of soil scientists...

The Environmental Audit Committee on Sustainable Food recently said: “We do not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices....the Government must explicitly recognise the need for more research into...soil sciences". And the Government Response? "Defra contributed to a report by the Royal Agricultural Society of England which found that current numbers of soil and water specialists are considered to be adequate but these may well decline due to a number of factors".

What they forgot to add, from that same RASE report was this: "Only a concerted effort now to promote the importance of soil and water management education and establish clear and rewarding career paths will ensure that the human resources are in place to meet future challenges."

These challenges are already upon us. Recently soil scientists R.C. Palmer and R.C. Smith found that ‘Field investigations between 2002 and 2011 identified soil structural degradation to be widespread in SW England with 38% of the 3243 surveyed sites having sufficiently degraded soil structure to produce observable features of enhanced surface-water runoff within the landscape. Soil under arable crops often had high or severe levels of structural degradation. Late-harvested crops such as maize had the most damaged soil where 75% of sites were found to have degraded structure generating enhanced surface-water runoff.’
Carbon content

The Strutt Report 1970 in UK concluded: "Some soils are now suffering from dangerously low organic matter levels and could not be expected to sustain the farming systems which have been imposed upon them." We want the carbon in the soil rather than air to help deal with global warming as well as increased biomass and biodiversity.

When a few hundred years ago in Britain we chopped down forest to create pasture, to, soil carbon was depleted by about a half, and then a further half when we ploughed it up to become arable.

It’s been estimated that 123 tonnes of carbon is stored per hectare in forests, 62 tonnes in pasture and 44t (or less) in arable. . These figures suggest that the best thing we could do for our soils and for global warming would be to re-forest our moors & Mountain grasslands. But it’s unlikely that big landowners will go for that.

The worst thing we can do is keep ploughing and removing weeds – each one a small carbon capture and storage unit. Leave a weed and it will die naturally, bringing more carbon into the soil.

I wonder if there’s any research to determine how much lower in carbon fields that have been ploughed and dosed with herbicide are compared to ploughing only? I doubt if Monsanto have done the work – given the potentially significant impact on global warming of a 100 million hectares of land exposed to their weed killers. Forget glyphosate toxicity, look what it does on the tin – kills weeds! There are laws to control ploughing (2006 regulations) but none controlling herbicides.

Global Soils Stocks (& see file at bottom pf page) indicate that 6Gt-­‐1%pa increase in grassland SOC mitigates ALL Global Fossil Fuel Emissions
Soil carbon loss

Since 1980 according to a paper in Nature by P.Bellamy et al, UK soils have lost 12-15% carbon of their total carbon. They used the National Soils Inventory which has been in operation since the early 1960's. they suggested that, because the losses were across all land uses, and there was more where the carbon content was higher, the losses were due to global warming, causing carbon to be lost as carbon dioxide. This is about four Million tonnes/yr lost in Greenhouse Gas Emissions. When you consider that 0.1 % of soil carbon loss equates to 100m extra cars in terms of carbon emissions, you can see this its significance.

However, the Countryside Survey of Great Britain CEH, using a different methodology, contradicted these carbon losses, claiming that there has been no change in last 30 years. DEFRA funded an independent survey Observer March 2010. The Supporting Evidence Paper for the Soil Strategy Paper (pdf) says "there is significant uncertainty surrounding the Bellamy et al findings, in particular on the causes", quoting the work of Smith et al who consider that only 10-20% of the loss could be put down to global warming. The Strategy paper considered that there wasn’t much room to increase carbon sequestration in the soil. And the independent survey decided that they couldn’t work out why Bellamy and CEH were so different. 

If you look at the CEH findings, it absolutely clear what the differences are. Rather than lumping all soils together CEH divides into 15 'Broad Habitats'. Most of the Broad Habitats are holding carbon steady if not increasing the carbon in soil. Except one Broad Habitat, and it sticks out a mile - Arable Soils..See file 'Save our Arable Soils'

And let’s remember that ‘soil health’ is more than just carbon – good health of the soil means: good structure of physical, chemical and biological components; holds nutrients; suppresses disease, and retains water. Healthy Soils are is (according to USDA)

Subsidise soil

Farming is one of the few industries that have the potential to sequester vast amounts of carbon (Farm Carbon cutting Toolkit). Why isn’t this at the forefront of ways to reduce our global warming impacts? 

When Richard Branson offered £25m to come up with a way to capture global warming gases, I was shouting ‘the soil can do it, it is virtually everywhere!’ Yet my fear is that because the Soil Strategy paper didn’t look too far or too hard, and because of the disagreement over Bellamy’s paper, nobody is going to move on it. 

Why aren’t the EU subsidies going in to soil sequestration, as that too helps the health of the soil? It’s my belief that our subsidies should be geared to reforestation on moors and mountain grasslands and growing more fruit trees on pasture land in West. I want to see more pasture in the East of the UK too, which could also bring in revenue and reward to rural communities.

It’s blatantly obvious to me that protecting and nurturing our soil – both in the UK and around the world – is critical for the future of the planet. And it’s equally clear that lack of knowledge of the current state of play and under investment in soil science will prevent us from achieving that. First we gather information, then we share knowledge, and finally we act together to create policies that support the very stuff we rely on for our livelihoods and, ultimately, our lives.

Soil Earth and Land

Where does soil and earth start and finish and how do they relate to 'Land'? Sounds somewhat philosophical, but many a war has been fought over these relations. Pick up the soil, and lots of it makes the earth, and then when it is owned it becomes land. And the trouble is we cant do what we want with the soil, unless the landowner agrees. And they are hard to find.

How about some songs about this lot?

Soil, Earth and the Land free on Spotify

It is probably the 'Workers'Song which explains most clearly the links between, earth and food, and who gets the best cut. Mind you, World Turned Upside Down is a close second.