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.  

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

 

Next steps

The next steps for the DCSA is to assess the receptiveness of the advisor base and ensure we can meet the demand and requirements across Devon and Cornwall both within the public, private and charitable sector. This includes:

  • 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 – 31 advisors have already expressed an interest in training
  • Developing the mentor programme to build the in-depth knowledge of soil types across the region – 16 advisors have expressed an interest in being part of a mentoring system
  • Running annual events for those interested and sharing project activities, training and opportunities
  • Look at how we support new farming entrants and the link back to college courses as well as supporting local food hubs
  • Maintain the urgency of the situation and the need to change both locally and nationally
  • Ensure strong linkages between advisors and ‘Champion’ farmers

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:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/805926/State_of_the_environment_soil_report.pdf

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.