The Environmental Audit Committee has warned against the withdrawal of DEFRA funding used by councils to clean up contaminated land.
The UK has an estimated 300,000 hectares of soil that is thought to be contaminated. Contaminated soils may include poisons like cadmium, arsenic and lead. Food can not be grown on contaminated land. Similarly, development can not go ahead.
New homes are built at an average density of 25 dwellings per hectare. So soil contamination is preventing the construction of 7.5 million homes.
In terms of farming, 300,000 Ha could grow 3 million tonnes of wheat – or 5 billion loaves of bread.
Local authorities may be less likely to test for contamination
Local authorities are responsible for cleaning up contaminated land. But, if funding is withdrawn councils are less likely to investigate potential contamination, despite the public health threat this poses.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. Consequently, the committee has called for DEFRA to provide new funding to improve contaminated land.
Government withdraws funding – The soil health report also says flood risk and carbon emissions could be increased and food security decreased because soil degradation is not being reported.
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…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 the policies in place to make this happen.”
What does this mean for gardeners?
In short – if you’re buying topsoil, be careful where it comes from. So, always buy from a reputable supplier and ask where your soil has come from. Suppliers should be able to give you test results so that you can see exactly what you’re buying. If you’re not sure – don’t buy!