Soil or Earth? by Morag Warrack (first published in West Sussex County Times)

  Morag Warrack

Soil or Earth?

The very name of our planet is also the name of our soil.  Earth.  One of the most precious things for our existence.

It’s an apparently strange mixture of living beings and dead ones, inert substances and active ones.

Anyone over the age of 50 is likely to remember the abundance, the rich aliveness of summer meadows-the colours, the scents and the joyful assault on the ears of crickets, grasshoppers and bees below, with skylarks above.

Sadly, for far too long, we have been focussed on chemical ways of ‘improving’ our soils while deliberately killing off the unwanted living components.  Now, the UK is officially one of the most nature depleted countries in the entire world.

The small animals such as insects and worms look after the Earth… and who knew that woodlice are tiny living carbon pockets which help to lock carbon into the soil just by the way they live!

Plants considered to be ‘green manures’ like clover and beans can return nitrogen to the soil so reducing the need for chemical sprays.

Probably the least appreciated or understood of all living things -mushrooms, defy our neat categorisation of plant or animal, being neither flora nor fauna, but make a whole new category on their own – fungi, and we are only just beginning to appreciate all the possibilities they offer in so many ways.

All these living elements help to nourish and bind the soils together, preventing them from turning to dust which is easily blown away in the hot dry weather or washed away in the heavy rains we are now experiencing more frequently.  Good healthy soils act like a sponge, so they are effective flood defences, holding the water in and allowing it to evaporate slowly.

The Soil Association is this year celebrating its 75th anniversary and I’ve been a member for about 25 years.  How shocking that the call made by Lady Balfour after the Second World War to make sure the UK would be able to supply its citizens with healthy food through healthy soil has been largely ignored.

Now, however, we have hope.  The Soil Association has helped develop the Government’s current National Food Strategy and Scotland is already committed to adopting the Association’s  Food For Life programme.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, rather than our taxes subsidising racehorse studs, or grouse shooting moors which are home to very few species, England decided to subsidise small organic farmers instead?  Our highly processed, high sugar, high fat intake causes obesity coupled with malnutrition.  Calories but with few vitamins and minerals is not a great recipe for good health!

Let’s hope that the COP26 talks really do bring about change.  It’s long overdue.

Help protect Sussex by visiting the veg and vegan market stalls in Horsham on Saturday 30th October.  The Sussex Green Hub café is also open at the United Reform Church RH12 1PT.