Soil health inquiry launched by select committee

The Environmental Audit Committee has launched an inquiry into soil health, in recognition of the importance of urban and rural soils to food production and human wellbeing.

Enquiry launched into UK soil health. Image: MorgueFile
Enquiry launched into UK soil health. Image: MorgueFile
In a statement the committee explains that soil health cannot be measured directly, so indicators (physical, chemical, and biological properties, processes, or characteristics) are generally used. These measurable properties of soil or plants provide clues about how well the soil can function.

A 2009 government report estimated that 2.2m tonnes of top soil was lost every year costing British farmers £9m in lost production. Academic research also suggests that soil loss or degradation reduces land fertility and increases the need for fertilisers and pesticides, releases carbon contributing to climate change, and reduces its water storage capacity contributing to an increase in flooding. Contaminated land in urban areas also impacts public health.

The same 2009 report, 'Safeguarding our soils - A strategy for England' set out a vision to tackling soil degradation by 2030. In 2011, the then-Government published best practice advice to farmers, growers and land managers on minimising the risk of causing pollution while protecting natural resources, including soil.

While Defra has also supported the Soil Security Programme which conducts research on soil health, the Soil Association and others have criticised successive governments on their approach to protecting soils. The Environmental Audit Committee said this suggests current measures do not give sufficient protection for soils.

The committee invites written submissions, no later than 5pm on 14 January 2016 on the following questions:

  • How could soil health best be measured and monitored?
  • How could the Government develop a strategy for tracking soil health? 
  • What are the benefits that healthy soils can provide to society? 
  • What are the consequences of failing to protect soil health for the environment, public health, food security, and other areas? 
  • What measures are currently in place to ensure that good soil health is promoted? And what further measures should the Government and other organisations consider in order to secure soil health?
  • What role (if any) should soil health play in the Government's upcoming 25-year plan for the natural environment?

Evidence should be limited to 3000 words and submitted via the written submission form on the inquiry page.

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