ARCHIVE: Entry Level Stewardship Handbook 2005 (PB10355)
The importance of avoiding soil erosion

Soil is a vital resource. Damage to soil structure and loss of soil through erosion reduces farm profitability and damages the environment. Run-off and soil erosion leads to the removal of topsoil with the possible loss of productivity of the soil. It can also damage crops, block drainage channels, have an adverse impact on water quality and aquatic life, and lead to localised flooding. On-farm costs of soil erosion in England and Wales have been estimated at 8 million a year.

In both grass and arable fields, the ability of soil to resist run-off of water and soil erosion varies due to several factors, including soil type, slope, rainfall and the structure of the soil as a result of its management. Lighter textured sandy and silty soils are more easily washed or blown than heavier clays, though a fine seedbed in any soil type may be a risk. Even gentle slopes can cause run-off and erosion. Where eroding fields lie up-slope from a road, ditch, watercourse or houses, they should be considered to be in a sensitive location.

You may already be managing your land to prevent erosion, but some fields could have an inherent risk and cause problems if circumstances change. It is important that these fields should be included in your assessment of erosion (see section 2.3.3).

In some parts of the country, wind erosion of sandy and peaty soils can also be a problem. Seeds, fertilisers and pesticides can be lost and the loss of topsoil will reduce the productivity of the land. Sediment-laden wind can cause damage to other crops, habitats and property.

Soil management

The way in which the land is managed, such as timing of cultivation and grazing, choice of crops, types of cultivation and use of hedges and buffer strips will all affect how much or little run-off and erosion may occur. A soil management plan (see option EM1) should set out how you will manage the land to reduce the risk of erosion happening in future. Please see appendix 1 for information on how to obtain further advice on controlling soil erosion and the best farming practice.

To reduce the risk of run-off and erosion you may wish to consider the following management:

  • Avoid growing certain crops (which are considered high risk due to the nature and timing of their operations) in fields where soil erosion or run-off occurs or is likely to occur (see options EJ1 and EJ2 below).
  • Preparing a soil management plan (see option EM1).
  • Locating buffer strips in appropriate places (see options EE1 - EE3).
  • Introducing beetle banks along field contours (see option EF7).
  • Cultivating along the field contours.

Sandy soils on a sloping field, next to a road. Soil on the road can be a hazard as well as forming a channel to the river

A sloping field adjacent to a road. Heavy soils have become compacted by cultivation when wet. This has led to run-off

Wet soils can become poached. Run-off from this sloping land has washed into the watercourse at the base of the slope

Wet silty soils have become poached next to a watercourse
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