Soils Alliance to be launched in Parliament

A new collaboration of individuals and organisations with an interest in the crisis facing soils will be launched in Parliament this month.

The Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA) is a partnership of businesses, campaigning organisations, the applied scientific community, academia, governmental and non-governmental organisations working together to reverse soil decline and restore our soils to health.

Hosted by Rebecca Pow MP and due to be addressed by Defra secretary of state Michael Gove, speakers include Woodland Trust chair Baroness Young, Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning, Greenpeace chief executive John Sauven, Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit and Professor Chris Collins, co-ordinator of the Soil Security Programme.

Founder Neville Fay said: "Our objective is to affect a step change in political and public understanding and appreciation of soil that will lead to a reversal of land degradation and the restoration of soils to health within one generation.

"We see the UK government, Brexit and changes in global environmental leadership as a unique opportunity to give soil – alongside air and water – the attention it so badly needs.

"Our Parliamentary reception will address how to frame a national soil recovery plan and bring soils to the heart of government policy as a fundamental pillar of life and natural processes upon which the entire food and farming system depends."

"If there is a political will to address the reversal of soil degradation, this marks the beginning of a vision for soil policy."

The SSA’s role will be:

• To provide a forum to debate the scale and nature of the problem, agree the indicators and determining factors, and identify the relevant policy mechanisms and levers for change;

• To unite stakeholders via public events, collaborative reports and calls to action aimed at politicians, media and the general public;

• To act as focal point for the sharing of knowledge, insights, research and expertise; and

• To monitor, analyse and inform about the evolving national, European and international debate on soil to effect positive change.

A new United Nations-backed report says that fertile soil is being lost at a rate of 24 billion tonnes a year, while a third of the planet’s land is "severely degraded".

A new publication, The Global Land Outlook (GLO), was recently launched at the 13th meeting of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Ordos, China.

Woodland Trust chair of trustees Baroness Barbara Young said: "Soil is often overlooked and undervalued. Yet it is a vital resource teeming with life that underpins the ecosystems we humans and many other species depend on for survival.

"We lose 2.2 million tonnes of vitally important topsoil each year from the UK’s land. Estimates put the cost to the economy at £45 million annually and some hillside agricultural areas can lose more than 100 tonnes per hectare per year. As agricultural land covers around 70% of the UK this is a major concern that we, as a country, must address.

"The Woodland Trust is working with farmers and landowners to reverse this worrying statistic, incorporating trees as a way to combat erosion, to provide protection from wind and rain, dramatically improve stability and stop soil being literally washed away in front of farmers’ eyes."

Helen Browning OBE, chief executive of the Soil Association: "The future of our farms, and the food on our plates, relies on all of us taking steps to save our soils. Restoring our soils to health has been at the heart of our mission at the Soil Association, as campaigners and farmers, for 70 years.

"This exciting new alliance unites a fast-growing community of organisations, businesses and scientists – extending far beyond agriculture – behind the vital goal achieving this within a generation. To turn this vision into reality, bold new measures to protect and restore soil health must be at the very heart of the forthcoming Agriculture Bill – as well as the 25 year environment plan."

Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit said: "To paraphrase Joni Mitchell "you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone".  Some estimates say that significant chunks of farmland have less than 100 harvests left in them.  If our destiny is not to be described as the destroyer of the birth right of our decedents we must wake up, change and treat the land with respect."

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