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World Soil Day
World Soil Day has been running now for ten years. It was initiated to raise awareness about the importance of soil and the vital role it plays in not only natural ecosystems but for the health and wellbeing of humanity as well, through food security, and climate regulation.
In some areas soil and soil health has become something of a cause célébre in the last few decades with the boom in growing organic produce and the resurgence of regenerative and no-till farming. It is still however an often-overlooked natural asset taken for granted by most people. It is wonderful stuff, a priceless, non-renewable resource, made up of five ingredients- soil, organic matter, living organisms, minerals, and gas, with about one-quarter of soil being made up of air. It has built up over thousands of years of interactions between rocks, weather, organic matter, and geomorphological processes and is the key to sustaining life on Earth.
It is home to a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity; a single handful contains more microorganisms than there are humans on the Earth. It filters water, supplies inorganic elements and compounds, essential in growing crops, and ultimately supplies us with minerals and nutrients vital for good health. It captures and stores carbon, through the accumulation of organic matter, with peatlands, sequestering more carbon than any other type of terrestrial ecosystem, and UK soils currently storing about 10 billion tonnes of carbon.
So why the need for a World Soil Day? As mentioned, the nutrients and minerals that we need for our own health come from crops, of which 95% are grown in soil. In doing this agricultural land loses these nutrients with each harvest and if these are not replenished the soil will lose fertility over time and will become degraded. The UN estimates that in the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased and that over two billion people worldwide suffer from a lack of micronutrients.
Soil is being degraded by intensive agricultural methods, overuse of chemicals, such as inorganic fertilisers, derived from petroleum, pesticides, compaction by bigger and bigger machinery used on the land, deforestation, overgrazing, and as is happening more and more forest fires. These all combine to increase surface runoff of water, especially in the event of extreme weather events, leading to soil erosion, a loss in organic matter within the soil, and therefore a drop in fertility.
World Soil Day endeavours to raise awareness of these problems and educate people as to the importance of this living ecosystem.
What can you do in your garden to help? Get a compost bin, stop using chemicals, try to increase the organic content of your soil, and grow nitrogen-fixing plants that naturally increase the soil's fertility. There are a few places in the UK where you can get really good “living compost” that contains its own biome of microorganisms, unlike the sterile compost bought from most garden centres. One of these is one of our Green South Downs members, The Compost Club, which operates in the Lewes/Brighton area. This is a really interesting and innovative business that takes food waste from commercial and domestic properties and produces an excellent compost full of microbial and invertebrate life. There are other similar enterprises dotted around the country that can be found with a quick internet search.
Concerns over soil health are not a recent event as this quote in the forward of one of my favourite books, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949), demonstrates: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Seventy years later another quote adds more credence to this “Restoring our soils helps solve almost every crisis facing us at the moment, including the climate problem. The question is whether people can realise this quickly enough to prevent further damage.” (Wilding, Isabella Tree, 2018). It is down to everyone, with a vested interest or not, to support World Soil Day and recognise the importance of this life-giving medium.
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