The first UK Soils Awareness Week to increase understanding and appreciation of soils, and the challenges they face, is under way.

Soils supports most life on earth, brings us food, clothes, housing, antibiotics, as well as storing twice as much carbon as is found in the atmosphere and three times more than the planet’s plants and trees. However, degradation through land use and climate change is threating their ability to provide a long-term food supply, prevent flooding and support biodiversity.

The awareness week is organised by uksoils, a not-for-profit community hub led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the Sustainable Soils Alliance which brings together information to inspire us to learn more about soil, and take action to improve soil health.

Professor Bridget Emmett, Head of Soils and Land Use at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, explains: “This summer’s images of scorched landscapes and cracked earth followed by muddy floods provided a powerful image of the stresses our soils are under.

“In fact, many of the headline issues of the summer – drought, climate change resilience, polluted waterways, the cost of fertilisers, the price of food all have soil at their heart. These might seem like isolated issues, but soil provides a common thread between them. By taking concrete steps to protect and improve our soils, we will go a long way to addressing these other challenges.”

Matthew Orman, Co-Director at the Sustainable Soils Alliance, adds that despite greater environmental awareness, there was little public understanding about soils’ functions and importance, and the threats they face.

As part of the awareness week, uksoils has launched a list on its website of straight-forward tasks that people can introduce into their daily lives to protect and improve the nation’s soil. These top tips include:

  • Compost your garden waste or sign up for a council collection scheme.
  • Grow pulses, including beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas, in your garden as these are good for ‘fixing’ nitrogen, by taking it out of the atmosphere and making it available in soil for other plants to absorb.
  • Check the labels of products to see if the manufacturers are part of sustainable farming schemes, and visit their websites to see what they really mean for farming, the environment and the soil.
  • Avoid concreting over your garden, drive or other outdoor spaces during building projects because ‘sealing’ soil prevents it from performing its vital tasks.
  • Don’t throw away soil. It can take hundreds of years to form but makes up around half of our landfill.
  • Where possible, try to avoid walking, running or driving on wet soil in order to prevent compaction, which can be hard to reverse.
  • Use peat-free compost.
  • Don’t litter.

There is also a soils quiz and a lexicon of the terminology you need to understand and explain soil accompanied by helpful graphs and diagrams.

For more information about soils, visit the website uksoils.org

UK soil statistics

  • In the UK, soil is being destroyed 10 times faster than it is being created (WWF).
  • Around 17 per cent of arable soils in England and Wales show signs of erosion and 40 per cent  are thought to be at risk (Environment Agency).
  • UK croplands have lost more than 10% of soil carbon since the 1970s (Countryside Survey).
  • Soil degradation, erosion, and compaction are costing about £1.2 billion each year in the UK (Defra).
  • Around 300,000 hectares of UK soil are thought to be contaminated with toxic elements such as cadmium, arsenic and lead (Environmental Audit Committee).