Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance

Building capacity and capability in soils advice across Devon and Cornwall

The Devon and Cornwall Soils Alliance (DCSA) launched on 3 June, 2019. The aim of the alliance is to build capacity and capability in soils advice across Devon and Cornwall.

Our soils are in a perilous state with more than 40% of soils degraded. Coupled with this, the accuracy, quality and consistency of advice across Devon and Cornwall is insufficient to deal with the scale of the problem. Currently, the public, private and charitable sectors are all trying to address this, but the size of the problem should not be underestimated and there are still considerable flooding, drought and pollution problems across the region.

The DCSA builds on work done through the Channel Payments for Ecosystem Services (CPES) project, to improve the articulation between advisors and regulators, and the Risk Aqua Soil (RAS) project, looking as monitoring soil water health as a way of assessing management outcomes.

    Our Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance film below shares an important message about the value of our soils.

    Scroll down to find out more about our feasibility studies and business case reports

    Aims & Objectives

    The DCSA acts as a non-political, non-lobbying collection of like-minded individuals operating through a myriad of projects and partnerships with an aim to:

    BUILD CAPABILITY – Soils advice and knowledge of farming across the region is highly variable. The DCSA aims to improve this by delivering training and mentoring through farm advisory projects.  

    BUILD CAPACITY – There are 80+ advisors within the public, private and third sector but the need for soil management advice is significantly more than this.

    At present, it is often a small handful of soil scientists close to retirement who are found in a hole in the field reviewing soil health. The DCSA wants to understand not only who will ‘fill’ the holes of the future but also how many mentors we need across the region.

    To help facilitate this, a Water Environment Grant (WEG) project, funded through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) was developed to initiate this approach. The main deliverables of the project are:

    • 40+ advisors trained – 1-day training – we provide the trainer and attendees provide their time. No previous experience necessary but you should be active on farms.
    • 10+ mentors – British Society of Soil Science members and Richard Smith mentoring over 7-days cumulatively – Mentors are already trained in soils advice and will utilise advice in the future and train future trainees.
    • 2 demonstration SAC remediation areas – Axe (Corry Brook) and Camel (Allen) to showcase farmer and advisor led techniques to remedy compacted soils.
    • 7 feasibility reports – Farm visit work in catchments across Devon and Cornwall to highlight the diversity of soils across region.

    The DCSA assessed the receptiveness of the advisor base to ensure we could meet the demand and requirements across Devon and Cornwall both within the public, private and charitable sector.

    This included:

    • Developing the one-day training course linked to BSSS and building on the Devon and Cornwall Soils and Natural Flood Management Manual to build soils knowledge across the region – 30+ advisors expressed an interest in training.
    • Developing the mentor programme to build the in-depth knowledge of soil types across the region – 16+ advisors expressed an interest in being part of a mentoring system.
    • Running annual events for those interested and sharing project activities, training and opportunities.
    • Looking at how we support new farming entrants and the link back to college courses as well as supporting local food hubs.
    • Maintaining the urgency of the situation and the need to change both locally and nationally.
    • Ensuring strong linkages between advisors and ‘Champion’ farmers.

    Feasibility Studies May 2020 & Business Cases 2022

    We ran seven feasibility studies to demonstrate a protocol for the assessment of soil health in any of the soil types in Devon and Cornwall in 2020.

    In addition, we created business case reports for the same seven areas in 2022.

    Find out more by clicking on the area reports below.

    Other Resources

    Dr Richard Smith is a soils technical specialist in the Environment Agency.

    In this film, he shows a typical soil erosion incident in the South West to raise awareness and understanding about the issue and the challenges for farmers working in difficult conditions, both with economic pressure and very wet weather. →

    Watch our June 2021 Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance webinar. →

    2020 #ActOnSoils Conference

    Our latest conference for the Devon & Cornwall Soils Alliance brought together a range of professionals to discuss soil health best practice and myriad ways to make improvements and build consistency, capability and capacity to assess and improve soil health across the region. 

    Speakers included:

    Yog Watkins, Senior Farm Advisor at WRT; Anthony Pope – Agricultural Consultant; Becky Hughes, Farm Conservation Adviser and CFE County Coordinator from FWAG; John Morgan from the Maize Growers Association; PhD student Nicola Ellis from Exeter University; and Hazel Kendall, Head of Land Management at WRT.

    Click the images below to see the presentations from the event. 


    2019 Launch event

    The launch event was co-hosted by the Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, Cornwall and Devon Local Nature Partnerships, Catchment Partnerships and businesses impacting on soil management. It also acted as a space for the Environment Agency to launch their updated State of Soils report:

    85 people attended the launch, with many applying to gain a greater depth in soils knowledge either as an:

    DCSA Affiliate – Anyone interested in being part of the DCSA and would like to keep up to date with soils work across the area. No specific commitment but keen to promote soils.

    DCSA Trainees – Anyone actively working with farmers, who would like to increase their knowledge of soils including understanding soil and sub-soil health, identifying soil loss and basic improvements any farmer can make. This will also cover the New Farming Rules for Water.

    DCSA Mentors – Any advisor, actively working with farmers with significant experience and qualifications in soil management, who would like to increase their knowledge of different soils types across the region and further their ability to give in-depth soil advice as well as offer training to future DCSA Trainees.

    Others expressed interest in training courses and benefiting from being a mentor to other advisors as well as learning about different soil types across the region. This interest will allow the DCSA to develop and offer initial training courses in the coming months as well as advertise activities for future trainees and mentors.

    If you were not able to attend, but would like to be part of this initiative, please download the form below and return it to: [email protected]

    DCSA application form

    You can view the presentations from the event by clicking on the images below.