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The erosion of British sovereignty is something that many Conservatives are worried about. But, perhaps, what should worry us even more is the erosion of Britain full-stop.

According to George Monbiot in the Guardian, British soil is under threat:

“…soil is a remarkable substance, a delicately-structured cushion between rock and air, formed from thousands of years of physical and biological processes. It supports an ecosystem that turns unusable materials into plant food, it stores carbon, filters water and protects us from floods. Oh, and there’s the small consideration that without it we would starve. It is, as it takes so long to re-form once it is lost, effectively non-renewable.

“Yet this great gift of nature is being squandered at a horrifying rate. One study suggests that soil in Devon is being lost at the rate of five tonnes per hectare per year.”

Furthermore, much of the soil that remains is becoming compacted – forming hard ‘pans’ below the surface that contribute to all sorts of problems such as flooding:

“Rain percolates into soils whose structure is intact, but flashes off fields where the structure has broken down, taking the soil – and the pesticides and fertiliser – with it.

“This means that the rivers fill up more quickly with both water and silt… Siltation blocks channels and smothers the places where wildlife lives, including the gravel beds where fish spawn.

“In some parts of Britain, soil erosion is now so severe that it causes floods without the help of exceptional rainfall, as saturated fields simply slump down the slopes into the houses below. In some places, soil compaction has increased the rate of instant run-off from 2% of all the rain that falls on the land to 60%.”

The situation appears to have got a lot worse in recent years. Farmers Weekly has an interview with the soil scientist Shane Ward who puts the blame on the sheer weight of modern farm machinery:

“The trigger was the step change in agricultural mechanisation about 20 years ago. You just have to look at tractors and machinery, they have greatly increased in size and we now we have ‘super tractors’ and ‘super combines’.

Though these vehicles are equipped with ‘flotation’ tyres that cause less visible compaction on the surface, these still damage soil structure deeper down – thereby lulling farmers into a “false sense of security.”

There’s another dodgy kind of security at work here – the ‘social security’ of the various agricultural and environmental subsidies that farmers receive from the state. One can make a case for paying farmers to look after the countryside, but paying them to destroy it is indefensible. And as George Monbiot explains, some subsidies are especially perverse:

“…maize cultivation with conventional methods in this country is a perfect formula for ripping the soil off the land, as the ground is ploughed deeply then left almost bare for several months…

Maize cultivation has expanded from 1,400 hectares to 160,000 since 1970. It is not grown to feed people, but to feed livestock and to supply anaerobic digestion plants producing biogas. If the National Farmers’ Union gets its way, maize growing will expand by another 100,000 hectares in the next six years, solely to make biogas.

“Subsidies which were meant to encourage farmers to turn their slurry and crop wastes into biogas – a sensible and commendable idea – are instead being used to grow virgin feedstocks on the best arable land.”

Monbiot, as always, comes at the issue from a leftwing and deep green perspective. Furthermore, his antagonists in the agricultural lobby present any effort to enforce sustainable practice as excessive regulation. Thus, as Conservatives, we may be tempted to follow our instincts and side with British farmers.

But let’s not forget that it is taxpayers’ money that’s at stake here – and if it to be taken from them at all, then in should be used in their interests.

Ultimately, it is in all of our interests – environmentalists, taxpayers and farmers alike – to, quite literally, hold on to our country:

“You want to get Britain out of Europe? Well how about ensuring that our soils stop ending up on the coastlines of France and Holland and Germany?”

12 comments for: George Monbiot says defend British soil and crackdown on subsidy junkies: how’s that for a Conservative agenda?

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