2015 is the United Nations International Year of Soils. Soils underpin the global food system and regulate water, carbon and nitrogen cycles but are subject to pressures from population growth and climate change. In England & Wales, soil degradation costs around £1bn per year. This POSTnote outlines the evidence for measures that sustain soils and existing policies affecting soil health.

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Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Soils filter and store water, support agriculture and other plant and animal communities, and harbour a quarter of the world’s biodiversity.
  • Soil is a renewable resource but can be permanently degraded by pressures such as urbanisation or erosion. Degradation of peat soils releases CO2 to the atmosphere.
  • Arable soil health can be improved by appropriate cropping and organic matter inputs, but poor management can lead to erosion, degradation of soil fertility and reductions in water-holding capacity.
  • The evidence base for soil management has been challenging to develop because soils improve slowly. There is no UK-wide scheme for monitoring soil health.

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