This statement follows the recent announcement made by my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park on 8 September 2021 on the Government’s commitment to publish a new soil health action plan for England and to outline further details on this upcoming plan.
Soil is a rich ecosystem and the soil health action plan will take a natural capital approach to improving its health by considering the numerous biological, chemical and physical attributes of soil. It will support sustainable management of soil by bringing together a range of actions to improve and protect the health of our soil. This will include delivering key ecosystem services and wider benefits and outcomes such as increased biodiversity, carbon storage, food production and flood mitigation. It will also provide certainty to farmers and land managers around the acceptable condition of all soil types.
The action plan will ensure England’s soil is sustainably managed by 2030 demonstrating leadership in delivering a coherent plan for soil health. It will focus on preventing soil degradation and improving soil health, and look at how land management practices and planning can be adapted to help protect soil from the impact of climate change.
The sustainable farming incentive is a key focus of the action plan and will support sustainable approaches to farm husbandry that deliver for the environment and improve soil health. This could include the introduction of herbal leys, and the use of grass-legume mixtures or cover crops. Healthy soil can also support farm productivity.
The action plan will include the development of a healthy soil indicator, soil structure monitoring methodology and a soil health monitoring scheme to help land managers and farmers track the health of our soil over time and the impact of their management practices. These actions will create a robust baseline from which we can monitor improvements in soil health, identify trends and support informed policy decisions, including any future environmental targets for soil health. The action plan will also outline how soil health improvements will help deliver against our wider environmental targets, including our historic 2030 target to halt the decline in species abundance.
The soil health action plan for England will provide a single, strategic approach to achieving these multiple outcomes and driving improved soil health across England, and we currently intend to consult on the framework next spring.