Big Green Conversation 23 May – SOIL

Kate Adams (Wye & Usk Foundation) and Caroline Hanks (local farming advisor on soil and meadows) led the latest BGC and gave a fascinating presentation.

Their topic “LOVE SOIL – Healthy soil for healthy crops, healthy livestock and healthy riversā€

Since the intensification of farming, soil has not been managed well, but things are looking up. Instead of focussing so much on the Physics and Chemistry of soil, more emphasis is now being give to its Biology.

Under the EU Water Framework Directive, water authorities must measure overall water quality and the health of river wildlife. The Rivers Wye and Usk are about as good/bad as the average of British rivers. Phosphates are a well known issue, particularly for the River Lugg. About half the phosphates in Herefordshire’s rivers come from domestic sources, primarily sewage. AgricultureĀ  contributes roughly the same amount. Phosphate attaches to soil particles, so elevated phosphate levels in water indicates soil is being washed into rivers.

The negative impacts of poor water quality include:

  • poor appearance and taste of tap (drinking) water
  • lower quality agricultural produce
  • recreation (canoeing and fishing for example)
  • tourism (landscape, biodiversity)

Improving water quality means minimising the release of phosphates from agriculture – more accurate and targetted us of fertilisers, keeping stock out of waterways, and reducing soil run off. The Environment Agency uses satellite imaging to track fields left bare in the winter months and follows up with farmers to educate them on better practice and sanction them is necessary.

Follow Dave Throup on Twitter to see how it works.


Caroline Hanks explained some of her work is helping local farmers introduce better arable farming techniques (eg. different rotations, use of cover crops, understanding soil biology, ) that will improve soil quality. See examples on Farm Herefordshire website here


Michael Gove’s recent announcements as DEFRA head on how UK agriculture might change after Brexit were briefly discussed. Some scepticism expressed that the walk might actually match the talk!

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