The International Year of Soils – 10 months in

By Sam MacNab, Communications Rep., Scottish Policy Group

Soil might not be the most glamorous subject within ecology but with 7.3 billion people dependent on it for food production it’s certainly one of the most important. Despite this, intensive farming practices at home and abroad are compromising the ability of this delicate and complex substrate to perform its biological functions, leading the UN to declare 2015 as the “International Year of Soils”.

International Year of Soils

A study by the University of Sheffield in 2014 predicted that the UK may have just 100 harvests left if we continue to neglect soil as we do now, whilst in parts of the UK soil is being lost at a rate of five tonnes per hectare each year. Similarly the UN has estimated that the world on average could have as few as 60 harvests left. It is for these reasons that the International Year of Soils was a necessity to promote awareness and conservation around the globe.

The launch of the International Year of Soils took place in December 2014: now in its final month it is worth looking back at what actions have been taken by the UK and Scottish Governments over the past year, to raise the issue and help reverse the decline in soil quality and quantity.

The first measure, taken in January, was for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to publish a new and improved set of soil standards for farmers. Meeting these standards is a prerequisite for receiving any payments under the Common Agricultural Policy’s greening or agri-environment schemes, or for remaining part of the basic payment scheme. Such improvements in standards is welcome, but it remains to be seen how well they will be met and to how much physical protection of soils it will correspond.

Closer to home, the Scottish Government developed a programme of work and events with the aim of educating policy makers, land managers and the general public about the benefits of soil as well as to promote the expertise Scotland currently has in soil science.

The Scottish Year of Food and Drink was also created to coincide with the International Year of Soils to recognise the dependency of this sector on healthy soils.

These actions at the government level have been complemented by a variety of local level organisations putting on a range of events around the country over the last year to raise awareness of this important issue among both decision-makers and the wider public.

With just over a month to go there are still a number of events to take place and details can be found on the Scotland’s Environment website.

The International Year of Soils has certainly been a landmark for raising the profile of this often overlooked issue and the momentum must be continued if soils are to be given the legislative and physical protection required, enabling us to sustainably produce food for generations to come.