Project Soil

As active asset managers of one of the largest rural land portfolios in the UK, we've introduced a range of initiatives to support sustainable soil management in our farming community.

Hands examining soil
Hands examining soil

Sustainable soil management is a long-term affair. It can take up to 1,000 years to form just one centimetre of soil. Enriching soil organic matter and stopping soil from eroding takes five years and upwards, involving much more than just spreading fertiliser and manure.

We are working in partnership with our tenants and Innovation for Agriculture to address soil quality. It's vital to improving food productivity, security and ensuring the long-term sustainability of UK farms.”

Ken Jones, Director of Rural and Coastal

The Crown Estate is in the vanguard of property owners trying to develop both understanding and progressive ways of working with farming tenants on soil issues. With many farming tenants on five year leases, it is important that we find ways to ensure they approach soil management with a long-term perspective, rather than a focus on short-term returns that could degrade the soil.

Healthy soils are the basis for food growth and are critical in supporting biodiversity, combating climate change and improving resilience to floods and droughts. They also help safeguard quality and yield for farmers, so supporting commercial performance.

Project Soil initiatives include:

  • Supporting: We have funded a series of workshops with the Royal Agricultural Society of England for farming tenants on the theme of ‘Enrich Your Soils’, focusing on plant and animal residue in soils, which is essential to soil fertility and the sustainability and productivity of farms. These interactive sessions have been delivered by Innovation for Agriculture across England and proved popular with tenants on both short and long leases. We also aim to extend soil management guidance to all tenants.
  • Letting agreements: We have a soil testing regime in all our new farm tenancy agreements to ensure that soil quality is maintained and where possible improved. On all farm re-lettings in the last year, the successful tenant was chosen both for their soil management proposals and their commercial approach.
  • Surveying: We are working with tenants and partners to establish a standardised, science-based survey to evaluate soil conditions at the start and end of tenancies, going beyond the usual simplistic factors of predominantly P and K fertilisers and pH liming. We anticipate that this will include identifying soil textures, organic matter content, and scoring and photographing soil structure.
  • Understanding: Soil is a complex material in respect of its texture, composition, structure, fertility and overall health. Opinions vary as to how to manage soils. We will work with tenants and partners to improve knowledge and understanding of effective soil management practices. Alongside improved soil surveys, we will set out soil management protocols, establish benchmarks for measuring and valuing, and use these benchmarks as a positive land management tool to influence tenants’ behaviour.

It might take several years for the results to show in improved soil organic matter, productivity and asset value, but we are a long-term business.

In the meantime, there will be plenty of indicators as to whether Project Soil is moving things in the right direction – improved understanding of ways to enrich soil, changes in soil management practices, and a science-based approach to measuring and valuing soil health.