Save our soils: Why we need to act now

14 December 2015

Interview with

Professor Richard Bardgett, University of Manchester & Professor John Quinton, University of Lancaster

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If no action is taken, we'll lose 1.5 million square kilometres of land from crop production by 2050 - that's equivilant to all the arable land in India. But it's not just down to policy-makers; there are things we can all do as individuals to help save our soils, as John Quinton and Richard Bargett explained to Kat Arney...

Kat - Richard, why has no focus been paid to our soils until now?  Why is now the time when we really need to pay attention to them?

Richard - Well, I think more people live in cities so they are more distant from contact with the soil because, in the past, on a daily basis, people would come into contact with soil and actually rely on it more.

Kat - John, what happens if we don’t do anything?

John - We don’t eat.  That’s the biggest problem.  If there’s not soil, we can’t grow any food and we will all die.  We would have extensive, barren, rock with little biological activity so all the plants and animals that we see on the Earth’s surface at the moment just wouldn’t be there.  You know, if I take you back what around about 4 billion years after the Earth was formed, it was really the formation of soils at that point, with the evolution of biological life on the planet, that brought the atmospheric CO2 concentration down and enabled things to grow and live on the planet.  So I guess, if we remove the soil at this point, that’s where we’re going back to, a very different world to the one that we all live in at the moment.

Kat - The kinds of things we’ve talked about, so far, involved things like farming systems, policy, agriculture, global change that we need to bring about but, are there any things we can do on an individual level you know,  are there any things we can do in our local environment?  Richard, what do you think?

Richard - Well, I think there’s an enormous number of things that people can do.  I mean you only have to look back to the Second World War, for example, in the Dig for Victory campaign.  Cities, or people in cities, produced enormous amounts of food which helped to sustain the population at that war time, and I think now, there are many opportunities for people to grow their own food; community gardens are booming for example, allotments etc.  So this is another way of people getting more contact with the soil an actually building the fertility of soils for a growing world population.

Kat - So John - what do you think we can do save our soils on a local level?

John - At a personal level, recycling your organic material that you’re consuming which originally came from the soil, and getting that back to soil so, having a compost bin can only be good because you’re helping to kind of close that cycle a little bit.  So, I’d encourage everybody to get into recycling and try and restore their own soils in their back yard, or their allotment, or in other places in their local environment.

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