Review of Events

Last updated: 30 Apr 2015

Cornwall Soils Day - a CFE event with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Helford Voluntary Marine Conservation Association

16th April was a lovely sunny day in the Helford estuary. Over thirty people had gathered in a field to discuss local and global issues around soil conservation, productivity and the environment. With an audience including farmers, farm advisers, university lecturers, land agents, agronomists, local residents and wildlife specialists the discussions were lively and varied.

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On our first field visit to an organic mixed farm we had demonstrations from Charlotte Evans of the British Grassland Society on the importance of getting to know your soil and how to identify soil texture and compaction, followed by a hands-on exercise in measuring soil bulk density, mesofauna populations and infiltration rates thanks to Matthew Shepherd of Natural England. Land agent Edward Buckland also gave us valuable insights into how farmers and tenants and contractors work together to produce good land rental agreements that protect business interests as well as the environment, and Richard Smith of the Environment Agency reminded us of the legal framework around environmental protection above and beyond Cross Compliance, and gave insights into the various procedures the Agency can use when working with landowners.

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Our second visit was to a first-year daffodil field where we conducted comparative soil assessments and had a discussion about high-risk crops in relation to soil erosion. We discussed tillage practices and field layout and how they relate to erosion risk, and how surface water can be managed in-field to spread and slow runoff and reduce risk. The practicality of nursery crops, cover crops, and mulches was debated and we also looked at an installation of a temporary sediment filter fence to see how this practice from the construction industry could be used to reduce water pollution from sediment runoff.
We returned to the Tolmen Centre in Constantine for a lovely buffet lunch and an in-depth look at the soil data that had been collected. This session from Matthew Shepherd really caught the imagination of our attendees as we explored the various physical properties of our soils, discussed how this related to their carrying capacity and productivity, and took a microscopic look at the bugs and beasties that were doing their job cycling carbon and delivering nutrients to the crops.

Overall this was a truly interesting and inspiring day – an insight into the living side of soil which is often overlooked in relation to a focus on inorganic fertilisers and mechanical interventions. There is still much to learn and we hope that our first Cornwall Soils Day has given everyone a new interest in what is living beneath their feet!

‘a really good event-the best and most informative soils event that I have attended!’ Mike Cherry
‘very inspiring – off to count soil micro-organisms now!’ Rona Amiss
‘Great farm hosts – very open, which benefits discussion’ Becky Miles, DairyCo

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