Defra has today (September 24) published a new strategy aiming to improve the quality of soil in England. The report, ‘Safeguarding Our Soils’, highlights the importance of returning recycled materials such as compost and digestate to land, but it warned that the spreading of organic matter to land also represented “growing concern” due to the risk that pollutants, such as heavy metals, could be introduced to the soil if the process is not properly regulated.
Despite expressing concerns over potential pollutants, Defra stressed in the document that it wanted to encourage spreading recycled materials, such as compost, to land because it increases soil organic matter, reduces the need for fertiliser and diverts waste from landfill.
It said returning these materials to land could have important agricultural and ecological benefits but pointed out that “on occasion, these materials can also contain low concentrations of pollutants, especially heavy metals, which can accumulate in soil following repeated applications”.
The strategy has been developed in order to protect the quality of England’s soil. Defra said this is necessary because, at present, 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil is lost annually because of erosion and the nutrients in these top-soils need to be replaced for us to use the soil to grow the food that we need.
Hilary Benn, secretary of state for the environment, commented: “Soil is one of the building blocks of life. Good quality soils are essential for a thriving farming industry, a sustainable food supply, and a healthy environment.
“Britain’s soils hold more carbon than all the trees in Europe’s forests – and their protection is critical if we are to successfully combat climate change,” he added.
Mr Benn said it was important for governments to develop local solutions with regard to the protection of soils and said he disagreed with the approach of the Soil Framework Directive proposed by the EU.
Defra also pledged to keep thresholds for heavy metals entering soil, and quality protocols and standards for the use of materials – including recycled materials – that were to be spread to land under review, aiming to ensure that they reflect the latest scientific understanding.