Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer – 2015 Parliamentary Question to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer on 2015-12-10.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they currently monitor soil quality in the UK, including soil organic matter content, soil loss and the extent and severity of soil compaction; and if so, what data are available.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble

The 2007 Countryside Survey measured changes in soil organic matter content of soils in Great Britain. It also measured bulk density and a number of other physical and chemical characteristics of soil. A new baseline survey for soil carbon was carried out in 2009 as part of the EU Land Cover and Land Use Statistics (LUCAS) exercise. The 2015 LUCAS soil samples are currently being analysed.

Defra does not routinely monitor national rates of soil loss (erosion), but we are funding research to pilot a national soil erosion monitoring framework for monitoring soil erosion in England and Wales.

Defra also funded a survey of soil compaction levels in grasslands in England and Wales in 2011.

No formal assessment has been made of the sufficiency of the baseline data from which to measure changes in soil quality.

The Government recognises that soil is essential for underpinning a range of benefits, including food production, but also biodiversity, carbon storage and flood protection.

While the future direction of soils policy will be considered as part of the development of the 25 year plans for Food and Farming, and Environment, government is already taking action to improve soil quality.

This includes new rules underpinning cross compliance which anyone claiming Common Agricultural Policy payments must comply with. The rules require a minimum level of soil cover, prevention of erosion and measures to protect the organic matter levels of soil. The new rules take an outcome based approach, instead of the previous paper-based system, thereby focussing on environmental improvements while reducing burdens for farmers. The Government will continue to monitor the implementation of the new rules.

No single body or institution has responsibility for measuring and analysing soils in the UK. Soil testing is carried out by a mix of commercial laboratories and Public Analyst labs. Typically laboratories are accredited and adhere to British Standards on testing procedures. However, there are no regulations governing soil testing procedures themselves.

There are existing soil maps for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which use different soil classifications. There are currently no plans to produce a new UK soil map, and we have not explored options for private sector investment.