Written evidence submitted by Jonathan Sheppard (SH0001)


My name is Jonathan Sheppard and I am an amateur horticulturist who puts sustainable principles at the heart of how I grow. I have established two National Plant Collections, Alcea (Hollyhocks) and Cosmos Bipinnatus. I am also an RHS medal winning grower, having exhibited at RHS Hampton Court where I stressed the importance of growing sustainably.

I believe that while this inquiry seems to be very much focusing on agriculture and food, the importance of soil applies far wider, and that includes what is being done in horticulture. Even if some of that is being done on a far smaller scale, I believe important lessons may be learned.

I have always subscribed to the views of American broadcaster, Paul Harvey, when he said:-

Man – despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments – owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.


  1. How can the Government measure progress towards its goal of making all soils sustainably managed by 2030? What are the challenges in gathering data to measure soil health how can these barriers be overcome? 

No response

  1. Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/land managers maintain and/or improve soil health? If not, how should they be improved? 

As an amateur horticulturist I currently can’t see how current regulations take into account anything that I do in term of soil health. Growing two National Plant Collections set up from scratch in a sustainable way, which includes being peat free, not spraying pesticides, using stored rainwater for the Collections, and mulching and being as regenerative as possible with the soil, I fear nothing is really known about activities and the lessons of where small scale, but important developments in horticulture could perhaps guide soil use in terms of agriculture, which is what this inquiry seems to very much focus on.

Currently if you are a farmer you may well get the much mentioned “public money for public good” for having conservation strips, as an example, which means the field margins don’t get ploughed up. There is currently no “public money for public good” for small scale horticulturists who are doing important work. Government has recently recognised that National Plant Collections have a role to play in their diversity aims. On an individual basis I know that the work I do in terms of using home grown willow which is cut and wood chipped for use as mulch to go back on the soil which is very much a regenerative way of working. The plants are fed with homegrown comfrey and nettle feed, so what is taken from the soil is returned, without the need for masses of fertilise, so no worries about run off into water courses. It is these type of initiatives that whilst being done on a micro scale, have a clear link to agriculture in terms of how treating soil as a valuable resource should be taken forward. If there is public money for public good in terms of what is being done by large scale landowners, consideration should be given to projects and initiatives being done in horticulture.

  1. Will the standards under Environmental Land Management schemes have sufficient ambition and flexibility to restore soils across different types of agricultural land? What are the threats and opportunities for soil health as ELMs are introduced? 

No response

  1. What changes do we need to see in the wider food and agriculture sector to encourage better soil management and how can the Government support this transition?

Government needs to look at areas of best practice which may actually be wider than just the food and agriculture sector, and include horticulture which also surely has a role to play. Just as the issue of pollinators has been examined and it is accepted that horticulture has a clear role in preventing their decline, which of course then benefits the food and agriculture sector, perhaps the same can be said of soil management. Changes in accepted practices such as a move to no dig principles in horticulture being one example, which perhaps needs more scientific research.

  1. What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such as soil contamination? 

No response

December 2022