It was a privilege to attend the Sustainable Soils Alliance event in Westminster this week focusing on the economics and valuation of soil. As our readers will be aware, the importance of soil cannot be underestimated. It is the fabric, the building block of our landscape and for our trees, a vital source for them to not merely survive but to thrive.
The Sustainable Soils Alliance is a partnership across farming, businesses, NGOs, applied science and academia working to reverse the current crisis in soil health and restore our soils to health within one generation.
SSA director Ellen Fay says that “the Economics of Soil parliamentary event aimed to ensure that healthy soils are recognised as an environmental service that should benefit from public funds…we wanted to bring this vital debate to the heart of government to examine how soil sits both on the balance sheet of the farmer/land manager (through input costs and losses in productivity) and for society (through climate change targets, flood risk management, biodiversity loss and food security).”
Ellen continues; “Our work with Defra involves demonstrating how soil should be a headline environmental indicator in the 25 Year Environment Plan. This raises the challenge of how to disaggregate private from public benefits where soil conservation is concerned and how Government may bridge the transition when farmers take on short-term losses on their journey to environmentally and economically sustainable practices”
“In bringing the Treasury and Business Ministers together over this, we are a step closer to unlocking the policy blockages to deliver the Government’s own goal of achieving sustainably managed soils by 2030. ”
The event was hosted by Rebecca Pow MP, Speakers from academic institutions, Cranfield and Lancaster universities respectively, and representatives from the Environment Agency came together to provide the audience with a holistic overview of how we need to manage and value our soil to ensure that we leave a legacy for future generations.
What was most exciting was the right hon. Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury provided an account of how Government is seriously integrating ‘soils’ into its overall accounting strategy. This marks a radical departure and a bright future for the synthesis between natural capital accounting and more conventional methods of balancing the books. It also coincides with DEFRA’s 25 year environment plan. This overview was supported by the Rt Hon. Greg Clarke MP, Secretary of State for BEIS and demonstrates how pervasive this issue truly is within central government.
One of the most engaging talks of the afternoon was that of Professor Joe Morris from Cranfield University. He highlighted the widespread concern amongst experts that the rate of soil degradation currently will have significant impact on human well being and the diversity of ecosystems services in the UK and globally in the short, medium and long term. Soils must be considered as a stock of natural capital and activities on any site have ramifications for other areas adjacent. Prof. Morris pointed out that there is often a policy disjunct and that private and public impacts have to be approached in the round.
The cost of soil compaction, and degradation, one of the issues closest to our hearts at GreenBlue Urban, is estimated to be around 1.3 bn a year. It just does not make business sense to continue down the path well-trodden and proven to be destructive.
Our soils can contain 100 milli tonnes of carbon and GreenBlue Urban have made new connections with academic researchers at the event and will be exploring how carbon fixing can be integrated into existing tree pit packages. We have to optimise all solutions to have an impact on the long term quality of our soils across our UK towns and cities.
Whilst the 25 year environment plan, aforementioned, makes reference to a suite of indicators that will be used to assess the impact of human activity and development on the natural environment, it was noted that soil was not one of the headline indicators. This would seem to be a missed opportunity and we will have to consider other policy drivers both at central government and local level to ensure change is implemented on all scale of development and sites.
Whilst emphasis in many of the talks was on the impact of soil degradation on agricultural land, notably the perspective offered by Stephen Briggs from Innovation for Agriculture, it was clear that soil does not recognise boundaries between urban and rural and in many ways the rapid decline in the quality of urban soil represents an equally as urgent issue to address.
We also recognise the role of soil in the delivery of sustainable urban drainage schemes and the impact that soil management will have on the mitigation of climate change and flood risk. This was the topic of discussion facilitated by Emma Howard Boyd from the Environment Agency.
At GreenBlue Urban we are consistently developing new mechanisms to ensure reduced soil compaction within tree pit systems and particularly the importance of the right soil ‘recipe’ to ensure that the system is optimised for integration into the wider SUDS schemes being delivered.
To discover more on GBU planting mediums – including SUDS compatible soil click here.
If you would like to get in touch with us regarding our soil focused research and receive a complimentary Soils and SUDs CPD then please contact us today!