1. Soil

Please be aware that the below is not a definite statement of intent – please think of it as a word document or googledoc which is open for you and us to comment on. That way we can all see what the ideas up for discussion are, write down new ones and debate whether or not they’re good ideas.


Our responsibility as a land owner is to ensure that our soils are not only maintained, but built up and soil health enhanced so that they may continue to support life for generations to come. This philosophy will underpin every use that we put our land to.

  • Undertake a baseline survey of soil health across the estate based on indicators which can provide an objective reference point over extended periods of time. Ultimately the results of the survey will indicate the priority areas of work, if any.
  • Based on existing soil surveys over partial areas of the estate, a likely outcome would be the need to set soil organic carbon targets for the estate in order to sequester atmospheric carbon into the land to build soil fertility, thereby enhancing the estate’s natural capital over time. This would also enhance the water holding capacity of the soil as part of building the climate resilience of the estate landscape. Targets would need to be co-delivered with farm tenants and a model for including this aspiration developed as an addition to any farm tenancy– possibly identifying soil organic carbon as a feature of the tenancy and developing realistic metrics against which both dilapidations and tenant’s improvements can be claimed based on the management of the soils.
  • Review of the Grounds and Gardens team practices to ensure they’re in keeping with soil health objectives.
  • Should we prioritise for development land with the worst soil condition and health?
  • We need a better compost system across the estate.

Now have your say

Leave your comment underneath, or reply to someone else. You don’t have to provide an email address if you don’t want to, but you’ll be alerted to any replies to your comments if you do.

Or click here to return to all topics

4 thoughts on “1. Soil

  1. Soil: so I think we should concentrate research efforts with universities etc on our soils (and their fungi). This should include as long term monitoring as we can, on different soils on the estate with as many different land uses as we can so comparisons can later be made.

    This can obviously include forests and woodlands as we already have good comparisons between fields and relatively new plantations on the same soils in the same places. Monitoring should begin as soon as possible now after recent changes in land use and in the future to see how land use change effects soils and their flora and fauna not just carbon but the insects worms microflora, microfauna and fungi.
    I won’t try and explain it all here as cleverer folk have explained it very well elsewhere.
    If you don’t know about the Knepp Estate in Sussex you should do and links are below.

    I have recently visited Knepp and read the owners very good book which describes the last 15 odd years of their experiment of stopping intensive farming and letting nature do its thing. Of great interest is the return of many species and how they still make a living.

    For a 15 minute film about the project: https://knepp.co.uk/rewildingkneppvideo
    You can buy Isabella Tree’s excellent book ‘Wilding’ here: https://knepp.co.uk/.

    The most impressive thing I took away from it all is the great improvements in the soil and how taking the soil out of production for a few years can very quickly improve it tremendously. And how recently they have taken a field back out of the Wilding project and returned it to agriculture in a day by chipping and ploughing. So it does not have to be longterm and we can maintain our wildlife by providing new habitats but also improve the soils. This could be done on longterm rotations on a landscape scale taking different fields or farms out of agriculture for a couple of decades.

    Longterm in a farmers mind but short term in a foresters mind.
    More on soils from the great tree man Ted Green at https://knepp.co.uk/vera-conference-1/
    which explains it all very well.

    So that would be a worthy experiment. Take a homogenous strip of land out of agriculture and let it scrub up for biodiversity and soil improvement, (planting if required). Then take sections of it back into agricultural production of some sort at different time scales and measure the soil improvement that has occurred.

    Recent new plantations on agricultural land could be measured but a problem taking them back into agriculture at a later date due to grants and contracts with FC etc.

    1. Thoroughly agree was also going to quote Knepp as a shining example. Everyone needs to read Isabella Tree’s recent book ‘Wilding’ where she looks extensively at issues with soil loss and steps they have taken to improve soil quality.Dartington could be Devon’s Knepp and it would be continuing the Elmhirst’s founding principles.

      1. Hey Kate,

        I love Knepp too but when we’ve looked at Knepp’s approach there are a few significant differences between Knepp and Dartington – mostly the amount of land and the greatly reduced levels of public access.

        One of our biggest challenges with the estate is how we balance the competing needs of people, conservation and agriculture, so we can take inspiration form Knepp but unless there’s a desire for us to dramatically change the way we manage the estate, such as cutting back on public access, or ceasing farming (and there are some practical issues with both of those options) we’ll probably need to come up with a slightly different approach.

        Harriet

  2. All good aims.
    Carbon sequestration targets will need to be tailored for each piece of land presumably, so those with high carbon already don’t need to keep increasing it (which may be impossible).
    If it is up to tenants to implement techniques of their choosing to increase soil carbon then converting arable to permanent pasture, and converting pasture to woodland, as well as implementing agroforestry techniques, are likely to be some of the outcomes.
    I wound not think that targeting poor soil areas for development land is likely to work as other factors (access to roads, services etc) would probably be more important.

Comment on this article

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *