FARMERS HAVE little understanding or care for the soil they farm and are wrecking one of the nation‘s basic natural assets, according to the Environment Agency.

The State of Soils Report (968kb pdf), published on Thursday (May 13), found a disregard and lack of understanding of soil is causing damage which may have serious consequences for future generations.

“For too long now we have been building, working, farming and consuming without understanding its impact on the land,” said Environment Agency chief executive Barbara Young.

“As a result we are now seeing growing signs of soil-related problems.”

The damage detailed in the report includes soil erosion and contamination, homes damaged by ‘muddy floods‘ and water polluted with silt and fertiliser.

This is smothering riverbed gravels, harming aquatic plants, invertebrates and the eggs of fish, with more than half of trout spawning beds in the south now in jeopardy.

In less than 30 years the area of soil usable for cultivation available per person has declined by more than a fifth, said the report.

Soil loss and population growth means this figure is now 0.25ha – less than half the 0.6ha per person needed to sustain the typical western diet.

Erosion moves 2.2 million tonnes of arable topsoil every year in England and Wales, said the report.

Levels of nitrous oxide, which contributes 4% of UK greenhouse emissions, are increased when inorganic nitrogen fertilisers and manure are added to soil, it noted.

“If we continue to neglect (soil-related problems), sooner or later the consequences will be evident,” said Baroness Young.

“Once soils are badly damaged they are almost impossible to restore to a healthy state.”