Written Evidence submitted by Tom Knowles (SH0078)

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?
a. The Government must agree on markers of soil health with ongoing review as new information comes to light. Stop ignoring the microbial markers. Plants have four main mechanisms of getting nutrients from a healthy microbial ecosystem: the rhizophagy cycle, mycorrhizal interactions, hosting endophytes (bacterial and/or fungal), mineralisation through grazing of bacteria and fungi by protozoa, nematodes and microarthropods.

b. There are a number of methods of measuring the microbial community in the soil: direct microscopy, PLFA analysis, mycorrhizal colonisation counts, DNA analysis with gene functions. Please assist in making these more cost effective, as the cost barrier is a major reason why farmers and agronomists ignore these markers.

2. Do current regulations ensure that all landowners/land managers maintain and/or
improve soil health? If not, how should they be improved?
a. No. The new ELMs are a step in the right direction but they are currently looking at the bare minimum. The ELMs transition has been too slow and confusing for farmers hence the very low uptake. The quicker there are clear, flexible standards and money to support and encourage the move to improving soil health the better.

Also there is no incentive for house builders/golf courses to leave the soil for new housing estates in a better health than when they received it.

3. 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?
a. No. Again, they are the bare minimum to prevent further degradation. There is little emphasis on changing the types of inputs to such that support the microbial community. There is not enough talk about decompacting land permanently which would allow for deeper rooting and thus larger surface area for nutrient exchange between plants and the microbial community.

4. 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
a. Plants evolved in a microbial soup which had a billion year head start. There are numerous scientific studies from around the world which were successful at demonstrating the potential of using the plant - microbial interactions to grow healthy crops with sufficient yields, but often they were never followed up, and thus never had a chance to be brought to use as products in the marketplace. There needs to be better management of the scientific review process and wider access to funding for startups in the space.

Also, encourage farmers to compost but providing funding for courses, knowledge exchange networks, farm visits, and buying windrow equipment and potentially upgrading tractors to incorporate PTO for pull behind windrow machines.

Encourage, and support with funding, foresters and tree surgeons to provide their wood chip to local composting sites/farmers in order to make fungal-dominated compost rather than burning it for biomass boilers.

5. What does UK Government need to do to tackle other stressors on soil health such
as soil contamination?
a. DEFRA should stop allowing farmland to be used as a landfill for industrial waste. Why has ammonium sulphate made with sulphuric acid from all sorts of industries been allowed to be spread at 700 litres per hectare on diary pasture across the North of England and Scotland?

Reinstate the Environment Agency staff numbers that were removed from the Contaminated Land Section since 2010 so greater review and enforcement of sites can take place.

Support bioremediation of industrial sites rather than “dig and dump” to landfill.

Also, provide funding to significantly improve composting operations to better managed low level waste. This composting process should be to produce aerobic and fungal-dominated compost rather than anaerobic digestion or really poor “organic degradation” process currently seen. This will use less energy, produce less methane, produce less waste product and produce a better product than can improve land.


February 2023