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Soil ‘as important as air and water’ – University of Reading

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Soil ‘as important as air and water’

Release Date 17 January 2020

The Natural Capital Committee featured a series of recommendations on protecting soil

A University of Reading scientist has argued soil should be given the same priority as air, water and wildlife, after contributing to it featuring prominently in a UK government report.


Chris Collins, Professor of Environmental Chemistry, is one of seven members of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), and led the soils section for its 2020 Annual Report published on Thursday (16 January).

The NCC report includes a series of recommendations from Professor Collins on protecting soils across the UK. It coincides with the publication of the Government’s Agriculture Bill, which for the first time saw a strong emphasis on the importance of soil.

Professor Collins said: “Soil is as fundamental to supporting modern society as air and water. Healthy soil is not only vital to growing food, it can also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and preventing flooding.

“Brexit presents challenges but also opportunities for the UK to better manage the environment, and the Natural Capital Committee’s latest report demonstrates some steps that should be taken to preserve our natural resources for future generations.”

The NCC advises the UK Government on how to develop and deliver its 25 Year Environment Plan. Its report follows the Government’s first progress update against the Plan, published in May 2019.

According to the NCC, the update showed little evidence of improvement in the state of England’s natural capital.

Professor Collins and his NCC co-members collectively bring world-class expertise and experience in the fields of ecology and environmental science, economics, accounting and business.

His recommendations to maintain healthy soils in the UK are:

  • Soils are a public resource and should be given equal attention to air, water and wildlife. This should be underpinned by deadlines for both national and local improvement, with appropriate methods developed to assess this.
  • Public funding for agriculture should account for its impact of this land use on coasts and seas.
  • Soil and agricultural practice need to be a major focus of any future land use policy in order for the UK to hit its net zero objectives.
  • The England-wide environmental census of natural assets recommended by the NCC should prioritise filling the gaps in soils data to determine the current state of soils, starting with areas known to be most degraded e.g. peats and arable lands. This should include soil type, condition and extent, and be updated every five years to monitor progress in restoring England’s soils.

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