Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum

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Priorities for improving soil health in the UK - Policy and regulation | Targets for sustainably managed soils | Funding and support | Collaboration | Clarity for stakeholders | Measurement and monitoring | Research and innovation

March 2024

Price: £150 PLUS VAT

This conference examined priorities for improving soil health and delivering sustainably managed soils in the UK.

Stakeholders and policymakers discussed what will be needed to meet the commitment of bringing 60% of agricultural soil into sustainable management by 2030, as outlined in Defra’s revised Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP), following on from the previously proposed Soil Health Action Plan.

Delegates examined strategies for improving soil management and monitoring as outlined in the 2023 EIP, including the development of soil data, investment into local skills and knowledge, and incentivising sustainable soil management. Discussion considered latest thinking on new and emerging threats to UK soils, and innovative solutions to challenges for soils across rural and urban settings.

We expected discussion on recommendations for the creation of a regulatory framework for soil health, along with agreement and clarity on measurement, monitoring and definitions, and moving towards the ambition for nearly all agricultural land to be in an ELM scheme by 2040, outlined in the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee’s Soil Health Inquiry.

Further sessions considered how enablers for improved soil management can be put in place, including funding and support, and developing frameworks for stakeholder collaboration involving farmers, land managers, building developers, investors and innovators, the wider business community, and policymakers in local and central government.

We also expected discussion on how soil health commitments fit in with wider policy ambitions for environmental land management, as well as for decarbonisation of agricultural emissions and the pathway to national net zero targets.

We are pleased to have been able to include keynote sessions with: David Smedley, Head of Soil and Peatland Science and Evidence, Defra; Rachel Boulderstone, Head of Soils and Contaminated Land Policy, Defra; Dr Eleanor Reed, Principal Soil Specialist, Natural England; Richard Bramley, Chair, Environment Forum, National Farmers Union; and Professor John Crawford, Lead, Global Soil Health Programme, University of Glasgow.

Overall, sessions in the agenda included discussion on:

  • policy: next steps for delivering sustainably managed soils in the UK - financing the transition - personalised and adaptable support for farmers and growers
  • land management: priorities for assisting land managers and farmers in moving towards sustainable soil management - examining effective implementation of agricultural schemes
  • strategy: improving soil monitoring - options for soil classification - baselining and target-setting - overcoming fertiliser and pesticide-related issues - protecting and improving urban soils
  • research: priority areas - unlocking opportunities for innovation and citizen science - building a global framework for improving soil health and management
  • unlocking value: soil as natural capital - the potential for soil carbon markets - increasing crop yields and promoting financial savings - implementing the Sustainable Farming Incentive
  • net zero: the wider role of soil health in the UK - impact on wider net zero targets and government strategies for decarbonising agricultural emissions

The conference was an opportunity for stakeholders to consider the issues alongside key policy officials who attended from Defra; AFBI, NI; APHA; CCC; DAERA, NI; DBT; DESNZ; EA; ESS; FCDO; FSA; Homes England; Isle of Man Government; Natural Resources Wales; NIEA; OEP; Ofwat; ONS; Planning Inspectorate; VMD; The Scottish Government; and the Welsh Government - as well as parliamentary pass-holders from both Houses of Parliament.

This on-demand pack includes

  • A full video recording of the conference as it took place, with all presentations, Q&A sessions, and remarks from chairs
  • An automated transcript of the conference
  • Copies of the slides used to accompany speaker presentations (subject to permission
  • Access to on-the-day materials, including speaker biographies, attendee lists and the agenda