Soil and in particular soil health is a subject matter that is getting a significant amount of attention in newspapers and from the general public. We have all heard the fact that a teaspoon of healthy soil contains more organisms than humans living on the planet (1), but it is less well known that our knowledge of soil biota and the processes going on underneath our feet is fairly basic and a relatively new science.
Various forms of soil carbon codes and credits are in the process of being developed and set up. There is ongoing debate as to how much carbon soil can sequester and at what rates. To add further complication soil carbon is often not in a static state and can be better understood as a continuing cycle. However, what is not in doubt is the importance of soil and its value as a carbon store.
There is a growing pressure on land managers to provide more from their land. In addition to the food and fibre that is the traditional mainstay of their occupation, room must be found for biodiversity and carbon storage and sequestration.
Whilst rewilding certainly has its place, it does not mean that biodiversity, food production and carbon should be mutually exclusive. In fact, there are opportunities to enhance all three in one setting.
Below ground diversity in the form of soil biota drives nutrient cycling and aids the formation of an improved soil structure, which is the basis of healthy above ground plants. Above ground diversity in plants allows carbon to be sequestered for as much of the year as possible, as opposed to monocultures which will only be at optimum growth for certain periods of the year. High carbon levels within the soil provide a home and larder for microorganisms. It also acts as a sponge for water which is increasingly important within agricultural systems as the climate becomes more unpredictable. Higher plant nutrient levels and improved photosynthetic rates are also major benefits to both arable and livestock farmers resulting from higher carbon levels.
As members of the consortium working on the development of the UK Farm Soil Carbon Code (UKFSCC) with the Sustainable Soils Alliance, Forest Carbon are committed to driving forward the agenda of increased health in UK soils.
Article by Eck Gordon, Project Manager.