World Soil Day 2019 | Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future

World Soils Day this year is Thursday 5th December with the theme “Stop Soil Erosion, Save our Future”.

Soil erosion from natural processes from agricultural land, deforestation and construction sites is not a new concept. However, the recent wet weather across large areas of the country has highlighted the issues that are associated with soil erosion, including silt build-up in watercourses, degradation of water quality and a reduction in the productivity of agricultural land.

Despite the awareness of soil erosion and the impact on the environment, between 2009 and 2018, the loss of valuable soil resource, as a consequence of soil erosion due to wind and rainfall, increased from around 2.2 million tonnes of topsoil (across the UK) to 2.9 million tonnes of topsoil (across England & Wales); with losses now occurring at a rate which is 100 times faster than the rate soils can form. The related cost of soil erosion has been estimated to have increased from around £45 million per annum in 2007 (UK) to £1.2 billion in 2018 (England & Wales).

Just as important as the potential economic consequences, are the environmental effects. The majority of the UK’s terrestrial Carbon is stored in soils, therefore small rates of soil carbon loss can have significant consequences for the UK’s Carbon budget and atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Loss of soil and associated soil organisms also hinders future carbon sequestration.

Soil erosion is non-reversible and can be exacerbated by poor land management; both agricultural practices and as a consequence of development. Potential soil loss is an important factor considered when the Agriculture, Soils and Peat Team at Wardell Armstrong undertake EIA assessments for developments.

When assessing the impact of potential developments upon soil resources, Wardell Armstrong specialists take a site specific approach identifying the soil types present and their susceptibility to erosion, presence of organic matter rich soils or peat, and the potential loss of soil that could occur due to the development or land use practice.

Soils of differing texture and structural development will behave differently. For example, the incorrect handling/reinstatement of a heavy (clayey) soil whilst wet may result in a reinstated soil profile with poor natural drainage and a subsequent increased risk of soil loss (erosion) due to surface water runoff, especially if the soil is also silty, whereas, the light texture of fine sandy soils and peat means that they can be prone to wind and water erosion. At the same time, sandy soils pose less restriction to handling as they drain and dry faster, and are friable for longer periods than clay soils, thus giving a wider window of opportunity for cultivation and other soil management operations.

The Agriculture, Soils and Peat Team routinely provide site-specific advice on good practice in soil storage, handling and reinstatement during construction, operation, decommissioning and aftercare; usually as a Soil or Peat Management Plan. Such plans are increasingly being requested by local planning authorities to accompany planning applications. The plans help to identify and minimise surplus soils (which will need to be taken off-site) and the need for soil importation. Therefore, Soil Management Plans can deliver significant project savings by minimising import and export of soil resources. The Team works closely with Wardell Armstrong’s CL:AIRE Qualified Persons, who can help to ensure that the soil management operations involving reuse of soils from off-site sources as well as targeted reuse of soils from a development site is carried out in accordance with the Definition of Waste Code of Practice (DoW CoP). We also provide support with soil management operations that require Environmental Permits or Waste Exemptions.

In summary, early consideration of soils and the preparation of suitable, site-specific management plans during the planning process, followed up by detailed specifications prepared before the construction, can minimise soil losses and maximise sustainable soil re-use, either on-site or off-site.

Wardell Armstrong’s team of qualified and highly experienced soil scientists have a comprehensive knowledge of soil, peat and environmental science, hydrology, ecology and agriculture. Our soil scientists provide soils and land management related expertise across a diverse range of business sectors including, but not limited to land management, utilities, built development (commercial and residential), renewable energy, minerals and waste.

Click here to find out more about our agriculture, soil and peat services and projects.

Photo: Silt laden overland flow, transporting soil off site during a high rainfall event (July 2019)

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