MPs reject Lords' soils amendment in Environment Bill

The Soil Association says MPs have 'missed a crucial opportunity to take the role of soils seriously'
The Soil Association says MPs have 'missed a crucial opportunity to take the role of soils seriously'

MPs have turned down a Lords amendment which would have made soil centre stage of the Environment Bill, with its own long-term target to secure its recovery.

MPs rejected Baroness Bennett's amendment on Wednesday (20 October), in line with the government’s decision to vote down all amendments.

The Soil Association said MPs had "missed a crucial opportunity to take the role of soils in the climate crisis seriously".

The bill, first published in 2019, is currently going back and forth between the House of Commons and House of Lords in a parliamentary process known as 'ping pong'.

A Lords amendment seeking a tougher air quality target was also voted down by MPs.

The votes come just a days ahead of the COP26 climate summit beginning in Glasgow on 31 October.

Soil Association's farming policy officer Louise Payton said on the amendment: "They could have used the Environment Bill to reverse the historic neglect of this crucial resource, but there remains a gaping hole in this legislation.

"It’s particularly disappointing to see this in the same week that we saw a lack of urgency regarding sustainable farming in the Net Zero Strategy."

According to the environmental charity, UK average soil loss, at 2.38 tonnes per hectare per year, is 1.7 times higher than the average rate of soil formation.

However, in a victory for campaigners, the pressure to get soils into the Bill has already secured a government commitment to producing a new Soil Health Action Plan.

Further details on this were revealed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rebecca Pow, earlier this week.

The Soil Association said this was a "key victory", but government "must move quickly to put this into action."

"“The action plan must not be half-hearted," Ms Payton said, "We need to see national soil strategies for all UK countries backed up soil monitoring, as called for in our Saving Our Soils report.

"We also urgently need to see genuine support for farmers to shift to nature-friendly, agroecological farming, which protects and restores soil health.”

The report gives farmers a manifesto for restoring damaged soils, including monitoring soil health, reducing tillage, adopting agroforestry and reducing soil compaction from machinery.