The only thing that stands
between us and extinction is six inches of soil
and the fact that it rains. That’s Anna Krywoszynska,
she’s a Faculty Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield
and what she’s saying there blows my mind, that most of the processes that maintain all life
on this planet exist in six inches of soil. And I know it sounds crazy
but the thing is soil is alive, and we’re killing it. And that’s problematic for a number of reasons. One big problem being
that 95% of our food comes from the soil. So no more soil, means no more food. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna guilt trip
you with another climate horror story because this is a problem with solutions,
and we’ve already made a start. And if we keep it up
we might be out to help some of the other scary climate issues we’re facing as well. Countries can withstand amazing thing. Horrific things. What no country can withstand
is the loss of its soil and its fertility. And therefore there is an emergency. To understand why people
are using language like emergency. You have to know that the world
is losing 30 football pitches of soil every minute. But before we even get into that,
what exactly is soil? Here’s environmental scientist
Lindsay Blake to explain. What amazes me about soil is it looks so simple
but really it’s very complicated. So it’s a mix of materials that are kind of
broken up from rocks and minerals combined with organic matter, that’s all broken down and water
but it’s also filled with living things from the very small microorganisms
invisible to human eye like bacteria, archaea, fungi, to easily see things
like insects and earthworms. One gram of soil can be estimated
between 4,000 and 50,000 different kinds or species of micro-organisms. Something so rich in life,
something so vital for our survival is something we barely even think about. Which is probably why
we’re doing such a crap job of protecting it. Life is at risk ultimately. And that’s because all the things
that we take for granted, resources, they’re more at the top
of people’s minds like water and air, healthy air, etc
are related to healthy soils. Unfortunately because
we’ve not been looking after soils we’ve been taking out more
than we’ve been putting in. But if we year on year don’t return
30% of all organic matter that we take out the soil,
we don’t return it to the soil, then we see soil degradation
because that organic matter is the glue that holds the little
bits of rock the minerals together. When Karen says ‘taking out’ ultimately she means
farming, growing crops for stuff like food, fuel and textiles. And that uses and damages
all that good stuff in the soil. We’re taking it out
but we’re not putting enough back. And In terms of farming that has a lot to do with the way the practices
and methods have changed over the last 70 years. Here’s Graeam Willis from the Campaign
to Protect Rural England to explain. Farms have got bigger, machinery’s got bigger,
fields have got bigger and farmers shifted to relying on machinery
and out of the bag solutions and by that I mean using
chemical fertilisers and pesticides. If you use a chemical
and you don’t add back organic matter then the soil has less life in it,
the soil breaks down its structure goes so it doesn’t stick together,
you can lose it to water and wind eroding it so it just blows away
or ends up in the river and you also lose carbon as well
so that goes up into the air where we … It’s the last place we need it. Oh yeah I forgot to mention, soil
is a really effective carbon sink. But it can only capture carbon when
it has a decent amount of organic matter in the soil. But I come back to that. So what can we do? How can we not kill the soil? Well in terms of farming
one technique is pretty straightforward. Just stop digging up the soil. No more ploughing. Which sounds pretty strange
because when you think of farming, you think of ploughing. Here’s Graeam again. I think we’re all familiar with seeing
ploughed fields, aren’t we? Ploughing’s been around
for an awful long time. But the problem with ploughing
is it disrupts the life in the soils. One calculation is it kill about 90%
of the worms in the soil. Now, earthworms obviously do a huge job
in churning the soil but earthworms also pull in material from the top of the ground
and pull it down deep into the soil and they process it through their guts
and add make all the nutrients in that organic matter like dead leaves and dead plant material
and make it available to the plants. So in ploughing you are throwing
away one of nature’s great helpers. OK but how do you actually
grow things without ploughing? This is John Cherry, he’s a farmer. He walked me through the basics. We’re mimicking nature. We just make a little slot in
and plant the seed. We keep the ground covered
at all times we don’t like to see bare soil. And the third crucial thing is the diversity
in the rotation lots of different types of plant. So you’re getting a variety in the root system
so the soil is constantly being fed and that puts fantastic amount
of fertility into the soil. This method it’s called conservation agriculture
or no till farming and it’s nothing new. It’s based on centuries old techniques
but it’s making a comeback in a big way. So when it seemed like we were simplifying
farming by making everything bigger and seemingly simpler, we’re actually
making everything more complicated and worse. Turns out the old ways were much better. We spend much less on it
and fewer sprays needed less fertiliser, the ground’s getting more fertile
all the time without being disturbed. This is rye behind us. As tall as I am hardly any fertiliser. What’s not to like? Conservation agriculture is not the only solution. There’s different types of soils all over the world
and they all need different approaches. But this one is working in the UK
and the Americas. Now, I’m not a farmer
and you’re probably not farmer either so this might seem like one of those problems
that’s completely out your hands. And I used to think that too. But it’s not true. We can all help protect the soil. I think what’s missing is
that local activism. Anybody who’s got access to a garden
and our gardens are such a wonderful wildlife habitat. You know there’s a lot
of biodiversity going on there and we can we do actually add organic matter. There’s quite a lot of healthy soils in gardens
but there’s also a lot of people who are sealing their soils, you know, paving. And all of that concrete thing of our precious
green space in cities is leading to more flooding. So I think what people can do locally
is make sure they are keeping soil surfaces and adding in organic matter. Now I said I’d come back to this
because there’s even more good news. Not only is healthy soil good
for growing food, protecting against extreme weather and boosting wildlife numbers,
it’s also a massive carbon sink, hoovering up huge amounts
of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. And if we increase the amount it could store
by just less than half a percent we could actually help
the build up of CO2 in the air. So we have more carbon
in the soil, living soils, those soils can be part of the solution to climate change problems
and it’s also part of sustainable farming in the future. So if the climate changes for the worse,
those soils will perform better. Farmers will be able to make a living
and we will be able to rely on the supply of food. Soil is a massive subject. There’s loads we could have talked about. So we’ve only really scratched the surface
in terms of soil protection, because there’s tones of different methods
and conservational agriculture is only one. So if you’re interested in finding out more,
there’s links to our sources in the description and there’s further reading. There’s also links to different organisations
that are doing great work for soil protection. Thanks for watching,
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