Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 01:10 UK

Bid to protect England's topsoil

Runnels on ploughed land after rain has washed away topsoil
Our soils hold within them more carbon than all the forests in Western Europe

A strategy to protect the health of England's soils and ensure they continue to store carbon dioxide, will be published by the government later.

Experts say good soil not only produces strong crops, but is an effective store of carbon, and can reduce flooding by absorbing rain and river water.

But Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said population growth, transport and housing are threatening the soil.

Farmers have welcomed the government's serious response to the issue.

The new strategy will include supporting farmers in managing their soil, a framework to protect peat habitats, safeguards for soils in urban areas and prevention of soil pollution.

Centuries of degradation

Mr Benn said: "Soil is one of the building blocks of life. Good quality soils are essential for a thriving farming industry, a sustainable food supply, and a healthy environment.

"Britain's soils hold more carbon than all the trees in Europe's forests - and their protection is critical if we are to successfully combat climate change.

"This is an important step in increasing the value we place on soil, and will safeguard this vital resource now and in the future."

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman said: "England's soil has suffered over the last 200 years from the impacts of intensive farming and industrial pollution, and today is under threat from erosion by wind and rain, a loss of organic matter and nutrients, and pressure for development."

The new strategy will set out plans to "halt and reverse" this degradation over the next 20 years.

The BBC's environment correspondent, Sarah Mukherjee, said although farmers are pleased the government is taking the issue seriously, some say this report is behind the times.

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