Despite brownfield development success, soils still destroyed by farming

Despite successes in cleaning up contaminated land and increasing development on brownfield, rather than greenfield sites, careless land management in agriculture is still devastating the soil.

Some 17% of soils in England and Wales show signs of erosion, usually as a result of intensive farming. This can pollute rivers with pesticides, fertilisers and suspended solids.

The results were revealed this week as part of the Environment Agency’s state of the environment report A Better Place.

The report showed that, overall, the category of ‘Land’ is rated as being in a ‘slightly worse’ state due to poor soil management and careless use of land.

Speaking at the launch of the report Lord May, President of the Royal Society called for more research into soils, which he called the most important part of the ecosystem.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, said that some reclassification of land could help protect soils, and that this could come through the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

This will evaluate land usage around river basins and water catchment areas.

Although soils were still in a sorry state, the pace of clean up for identified contaminated soils has improved. The Environment Agency dealt with 1,063 hectares of polluted land in the first six months of 2004/05, while private developers have cleaned up even more.

This has been largely due to an increase in development on brownfield land in response to government targets. In the last few years, 66% of houses built in England were on previously used land, a 5% increase on previous years.

By David Hopkins

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