SOIL DEGRADATION is costing England and Wales £1.5billion per year and without immediate action to slow this erosion, some soils may disappear completely by 2050.

This warning was issued by Professor Jane Rickon of Cranfield University, who stressed that protecting the thin layer of soil over the earth's surface is critical to human survival.

The Professor of Soil Erosion and Conservation explained that soil health directly relates to sustainable development goals such as zero hunger, sustainable cities and clean water and sanitation. She outlined that an estimated 12 million hectares of agricultural land worldwide are lost to soil degradation every year. Climate change has resulted in rainfall which is more frequent, extreme and of longer duration, having a greater impact on soil erosion.

"The word ‘soil’ has long had negative cultural connotations," said Professor Rickon, who was recently awarded Society of Chemical Industry's Andrew Medal for her work in the area of 'neglected science'. "We talk of 'muddying the waters' and in the United States, soil is known as 'dirt', yet this is far from the reality. This brown, muddy material is actually a very dynamic and functional part of natural capital that underpins a lot of the things we take for granted. We must begin to value soil as a finite resource essential to human survival," she stressed. "Soil delivers diverse benefits to society as a whole and has direct links to individuals’ well-being and national economic status.

"Around 97% of our food comes from terrestrial sources," she continued, "As well as the production of food, fibre, fodder and bio (fuel), soils regulate our water supplies and mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration and storage. We know that healthy soils can support vegetation and crops in taking out atmospheric carbon dioxide.

"Soils also provide habitats for biodiversity and make important contributions to our cultural life. Most countries throughout the world have agreed that to make the world a better place, we should be working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I would argue that soil is related to most, if not all of those goals," she concluded.