How soil can support our fight against the climate crisis

Soil is one of nature’s most complex ecosystems and is home to a quarter of our planet’s biodiversity. Healthy soil is fundamental for the wellbeing of all plants and land-based animals and creates the foundation of most life on earth.  

Today, on World Soil Day, we are celebrating this valuable natural resource and how it supports food production, carbon reduction, and climate change adaptation.   

The soils around Brighton and Hove are mostly chalk based and create a specialist ecosystem of rare wildflowers, insects and animals that make the South Downs their home. 

Soil and food 

This year’s theme for World Soil Day is ‘Soils: Where Food Begins’. Healthy soil is crucial to food production as it maintains productivity and function within agricultural systems, providing healthier food for people to eat.  

In fact, the FAO found that sustainable soil management has the potential to produce up to 58 percent more food!  

Soil also plays a vital role in storing and purifying water, which is a key function we need to maintain the chalk aquifer of the South Downs that supplies water to over 1.2 million people.  

The Aquifer Partnership (TAP), a partnership between the South Downs National Park Authority, Brighton & Hove City Council, Southern Water, and the Environment Agency, protects our drinking water from pollution and increases resilience to climate change.  

Carbon reduction 

Soil plays an important role in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, storing 3 times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and twice the amount contained in all plants and trees.  

This means that maintaining healthy soil systems can directly reduce the impacts of the climate crisis by slowing down the greenhouse effect, which in turn slow down the pace of climate change. 

Earlier this year, the council’s Parks Projects team began trialling the use of biochar at The Level. The biochar, which is made of green waste, locks in carbon and nourishes the soil.  

When mixed with compost, the biochar acts like a giant sponge, holding onto water in hot weather, locking in nutrients, feeding the grass, and also draining faster in wet weather.  

Weather resilience 

Soil can also help mitigate the impacts of climate change by providing a buffer for extreme weather events which are on the rise both locally in Brighton & Hove and globally.  

Healthy soil filters rainwater slowly and can store 20 times its weight in water. Retaining water is crucial for improving resilience to droughts. 

When rainfall moves through soil too quickly or it is prevented from entering the soil, surface runoff increases, taking soil, nutrients, and plant protection products with it – all while increasing the risk of flooding.  

We’re working hard to minimise flooding in Brighton & Hove through the Shaping Climate Change Adaptive Places (SCAPE) project, which diverts surface water run-off away from vulnerable properties, and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), which store and slowly release surface water run-off while filtering out pollutants.  

Protecting ecosystems 

Councillor Jamie Lloyd, Brighton & Hove's lead councillor for biodiversity, said:  

“The rare chalk grasslands that make up the South Downs are a defining feature of Brighton & Hove and the wider The Living Coast UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  

“But the climate crisis threatens to disrupt and damage this unique ecosystem.  

“It’s crucial that we preserve this important resource that helps us produce healthy food, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and adapt to the effects of climate change, such as flooding and droughts.  

“By supporting projects that protect soil, we can create a healthier, cleaner and sustainable future for Brighton & Hove that is more resilient to climate change.”  

More information on soil and biodiversity.  

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