The role of soil
Soil is a fundamental and essentially non-renewable natural resource, providing the essential link between the components that make up our environment. Soils vary hugely from region to region and even from field to field, but they all perform a number of valuable functions or ecosystem services for society which include:
- Nutrient cycling
- Water regulation
- Carbon storage
- Support for biodiversity and wildlife
- Providing a platform for food, fibre production and infrastructure.
- Potential world population of 9 billion by 2050
- Climate Change - increasing erosion rates through hotter and drier conditions
- Acidification - through lack of soil structure
- Erosion - intense rainfall with a potential annual loss of 2.2 million tonnes per annum in the UK
- Compaction - resulting from drier soil conditions
- Organic Matter Decline
- Soil Pollution
- Demands for new infrastructure – Construction and Development
Soils now face increasing pressures and threats with an increasing global population set to top 9 billion by 2050, with increasing demand for housing, roads and infrastructure, but most significantly Climate Change. These new pressures will exacerbate many of the threats that soils already face in providing their range of ecosystem services. Soil erosion due to wind and rainfall already results in the estimated annual loss of around 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil in the UK. Climate change has the potential to increase erosion rates through hotter, drier conditions that make soils more susceptible to wind erosion, coupled with intense rainfall incidents that can wash soil away. Soils are an important store of carbon, with those in the UK containing an estimated 10 billion tonnes of carbon, half of which is found in our peat habitats. Losing this store to the atmosphere would create emissions that are equivalent to more than 50 times the UK's current annual greenhouse gas emissions.
As the climate warms and rainfall patterns change, there is a growing risk that emissions to the atmosphere from soil will increase, in turn causing further climate change as well as reducing the soil's productive capacity. While many sources of soil pollution have been dealt with through environmental regulation, challenges remain if we are to manage more diffuse sources, including from atmospheric deposition and spreading waste materials on land, and dealing with our industrial legacy of contaminated land. The new Soil Strategy for England – Safeguarding our Soils – provides a vision to guide future policy development across a range of areas and sets out the practical steps that need to be taken to prevent further degradation of our soils; to enhance, restore and ensure their resilience; and to improve our understanding of the threats to soil and best practice in responding to them.
The strategy further supports the EU Thematic Strategy on Soil Protection
To assist in evaluating the monitoring and delivery of the strategy a Soils Advisory Forum will include all interested stakeholders to report on progress and future plans for the soils policy, and further strengthen links with industry, the farming sector and research institutions. The Agricultural Lime Association have joined the forum to provide technical support on pH issues.