NHS for Soils needed!

Every month, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology releases several publications, known as POSTnotes, that aim to provide an easily digestible overview of research in different areas of science and technology, as a tool for policy makers.  One released this month is all about securing UK soil health, in additional to the principally-important parts about peat.  I’d definitely recommend reading it if you’re interested in learning of the current status and threats to this ‘renewable resource’.

Renewable is a slightly misleading word.  Peat is a renewable resource if we wait about 3,000 years between harvests.  Fossil fuels could also be renewable if we could hold off popping the kettle on again for another 300 million years or so.  There should probably be a time frame attached to each use of renewable, and a conservative one at that, based on the Precautionary Principle.

A maturing sugarbeet field in East Anglia.

A maturing sugar beet field in East Anglia.

We basically need some, or even one coherent and policeable policy that governs sustainable soil management in the UK (and Europe), so that we can adhere to the Government’s plan to “grow more, buy more and sell more British food” over the next 25 years.  The world needs our sugar beet and broad beans.  And we all so desperately need our soils.

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Caged.

Every so often, the legend that is Corey Bradshaw publishes a Cartoon guide to biodiversity loss.  This one made me especially sad.  Perhaps because I saw several great people of the trees, stretching between bars in 4x4m round cages that they had been in for 20+ years, almost non-stop, in an orangutan care centre in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, last year.  They didn’t have a home to go back to, and couldn’t be let out into the small patch of enclosed forest that the smaller orangs could hang around in during set ‘play’ times, in case they caused a problem.  Did we not cause their problem?

Retreating from peat!

A degraded tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

A deforested and drained tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

(I also just published this on the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group website.  Worth a quick gander!)

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has decided to ‘immediately retire’ approximately 7,000 hectares of its acacia plantations in Indonesia, with the goal of restoring them to intact peat swamp forest and developing a peatland best management practice model.  This is a bold move, forfeiting profits to comply with their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).  Just over a year ago, they proved to be conservation forerunners again, (loudly) announcing to ‘protect and restore’ one million hectares of forest.  These come as welcome actions from APP, after it spent many years (and still is?) leading the deforestation frontier across Sumatra and Kalimantan, replacing hugely diverse ecosystems with monoculture plantations, and draining many a peatland along the way.

As Wetlands International say, there’s still a long way to go before APP can claim to be conserving, rather than destroying peatlands.  For example, how do they plan to rewet the peatlands?  What species are they going to plant into the current monocultures, and when?  How will they manage fire risk (heightened this year by ENSO) and potential flooding?   What will be the likely carbon emissions under different restoration strategies?  These are all important questions that researchers can help to answer.  Members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group are certainly on the case (watch this space).

But APP have given us a goal to hold them accountable to….and we must.

More information on the restoration mission from Deltares, APP’s independent peat expert team, can be found here.