The soils of the Somerset Levels and Catchment have two important roles; significant areas of peat soils act as a major store of organic carbon, and farmland soils store rainfall which reduces the risk of flooding.
The importance of soils to our national wellbeing is sometimes ignored. Fertile and healthy soil is necessary for agricultural productivity, the nutritional content of food, for water and carbon cycles and for biodiversity, yet our soil is in trouble.
Changed farming practices and inappropriate development have damaged soil composition and capacity. The cultivation or fertilisation of undesignated flower-rich grassland, drainage of wet grassland, ploughing of permanent pasture, the removal of hedgerows, the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the pollution of rivers from slurry and the erosion of soils left bare in winter from late harvested crops all impact on soil structure and health. The change of land use through development too often ignores environmental issues and can be polluting and damaging to biodiversity of the region.
It has been estimated that, unless we change the way we manage our soils they will only produce harvest for about another one hundred years – A frightening prospect!
Agriculture is the dominant land use in the Catchment accounting for around 79% of the land area. It is estimated that around 7,500 people are employed in agriculture in milk, beef, lamb and wheat production, generating an economic worth of around £257 million.
Now we have left the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy, farmers will rely on DEFRA to fund conservation schemes. It seems the emphasis will be on collective schemes backed up by non-government funding for carbon capture.
Following the chaos of the last years, most of the many plans are still evolving but the need for the farming industry to produce more home-grown food is ever present.
Farmers continue to wait for the detail of the schemes to be published and for a clear plan for farming in the future, hoping it will be a good balance for farming and conservation in the Somerset we love.
- Sustainable Soils Alliance – https://www.sustainablesoils.org
- The Soil Association – https://www.soilassociation.org/
- Countryside Restoration Trust (Regenerative Farming) –https://www.thecrt.co.uk
- Campaign for Rural Protection (CPRE) – https://www.cpre.org.uk
- Nature Friendly Farming Network – https://www.nffn.org.uk