Dusty soil falls out of a man's hand© Forrest Cavale

A collaboration which aims to improve political understanding of soil health and reverse land degradation is to be launched in parliament next week.

The Sustainable Soil Alliance (SSA) is formed of businesses, the applied scientific community, academia, and governmental and non-governmental organisations with the objective of restoring soil health within one generation.

The SSA said Brexit must be seized as an opportunity to put soil at the heart of future government policy on farming and the environment, as soil in the UK is just one generation away from being unable to meet the population’s needs.

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The UK loses 2.2m tonnes of topsoil each year from the land, at an estimated cost to the economy of £45m/year. Some hilltop agricultural areas can lose more than 100t/ha/year.

The launch event on Monday 23 October at the House of Commons will address how to frame a national soil recovery plan.

The SSA aims to provide a forum to debate the scale of the problem and identify policy mechanisms and levers for change, to unite stakeholders via events and reports and to act as a focal point for knowledge exchange.

Unique opportunity

SSA founder Neville Fay said: “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.

“As agricultural land covers about 70% of the UK this is a major concern that we, as a country, must address.

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

The Soil Association’s chief executive Helen Browning said: “The future of our farms, and the food on our plates, relies on all of us taking steps to save our soils.

“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.”