The Environmental Audit Committee has warned against Defra’s withdrawal of funding for councils to clean up contaminated land.

At present, the UK has an estimated 300,000 hectares of soil that is thought to be contaminated with poisons such as cadmium, arsenic and lead.  Contaminated soil should certainly not be used for growing food and neither is it suitable for development. 

New homes are built at an average density of 25 dwellings per hectare, which means that 7.5 million homes that could potentially be built – cannot go ahead until the land is decontaminated.

In terms of farming, 300,000 Ha could grow up to 3 million tonnes of wheat – or 5 Billion loaves of bread.

Local authorities may be less likely to test for contamination

Local authorities are required to clean up contaminated land before it can be used.  Without Defra’s funding, councils are less likely to proactively investigate potential contamination, despite the potential public health threat this poses.

These findings are published in a new report on the health of UK soil produced by the Environmental Audit Committee.  The Committee has called for Defra to set new funding for contaminated land remediation.

The soil health report also wants that failing to prevent soil degradation could lead to increased flood risk, lower food security and high carbon emissions.

Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said “Soil is a Cinderella environmental issue.  It doesn’t receive as much attention as air pollution, water quality or climate change. But, whether we realise it or not, society relies on healthy soil for the food we eat, for flood prevention and for storing carbon.  The Government says it wants our soil be managed sustainably by 2030, but there is no evidence that it is putting in place the policies to make this happen.”

What does this mean for gardeners?

In short – if you’re buying topsoil, be careful where it comes from.  Always buy from a reputable supplier and ask where your soil was sourced.  Suppliers should be able to give you soil test results so that you can see exactly what you’re buying.  If you’re not sure – don’t go there!