The British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) last month announced their new science note, which recommends that farmers and land managers are encouraged and rewarded for implementing sustainable soil management practices (known in the agricultural sector as ‘regenerative farming’) and that where financial incentives are developed to encourage such practices, any funder should provide ongoing, ‘long-term’ support to these schemes.

With input from ADAS soil scientists Paul Newell Price and Anne Bhogal, the note set out the main issues surrounding soil C and the actions that governments, communities and individuals can take. Recommendations included not only advice on the kind of soil management practices and contexts in which it may be possible to increase soil carbon, but also the vital importance of protecting existing carbon stores in permanent grasslands, moorlands, peatlands, wetlands and woodlands.

The importance of our soil as a carbon store

Soils are an essential carbon store. Increasing soil organic carbon content through sustainable soil management can improve soil health, which will in turn, improve the efficiency of food production and water quality. However, increasing the soil’s ability to store organic carbon can be a slow process, often taking decades. Any increases can also be undone very quickly by returning to former practices. The note recommends that any incentives to support farmers and other landowners to sequester carbon, are made over the long-term so progress can be maintained, and any gains are not lost.

Sustainable soil management (sometimes referred to as ‘regenerative agriculture’) includes reducing the amount of tillage, using ‘cover crops’ between food crops and introducing organic materials. The note also recommends that smaller landowners and gardeners play a part by introducing these practices to increase the amount of carbon in their soil. Methods like composting and using ‘reduced dig’ gardening can all help.

The use of materials such as basalt or carbonised biomass (biochar) to boost natural soil carbon stores needs to be carefully considered. A whole life cycle approach should be taken to ensure they do not impact soil quality through pH change.

Dr Paul Newell Price, Chair of the group and Principal Soil Scientist at ADAS said,

“We hope this science note provides some clarity around the challenges of protecting and increasing soil carbon levels, and highlights how farmers and land managers could be supported to improve soil health and assist with efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

The Science Note: Soil Carbon is available as a technical, fully referenced document and as a short, summary document via: https://soils.org.uk/education/guidance-and-science-notes/.