IEMA's Policy and Engagement Lead for Impact Assessment, Rufus Howard discusses the launch of the new Land and Soils guidance which will help practitioners understand and record the full environmental implications of development on land and soil, embedding sustainable soil management throughout EIA

The protection of soils and soil health is rising up the political agenda with the announcement that a Soil Health Action Plan (SHAPE) for England will be published to restore the health of our soils, Lord Goldsmith announced in a speech in the House of Lords in September 2021. During a debate in the Report Stage of the Environment Bill, Lord Goldsmith confirmed that the plan will be a crucial part of the UK Government’s plan to halt the decline of species by 2030, as well as meeting long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity. The Government recognised that well-managed soils can lead to increased biodiversity, improved water quality and reduced carbon emissions. The Government is expected to consult on a draft outline of SHAPE in the spring of 2022.

It is in this context that IEMA is delighted to launch IEMA’s latest Impact Assessment Guidance, ‘A New Perspective on Land and Soil in Environmental Impact Assessment’. The aims of the new guidance are ambitious, but also necessary and timely. The authors and reviewers have sought to address multiple issues in a complex area of practice to better assess and manage the effects of development on land and soils. Importantly, the guidance seeks to move practice away from a narrow focus on quantifying and financially compensating impacts on agricultural land and advocates a new and wider approach to assessing the soil functions, ecosystem services and natural capital provided by land and soils. The guide highlights and reinforces the importance of soil functions and ecosystems services to wider systems including but not limited to carbon and climate, hydrology, food production, biodiversity and ecology.

Part position paper, part educational resource, and part methodological guidance, the combined result is a handbook on the current state of land and soil in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and will be a valuable resource for practitioners seeking to assess and manage the effects of developments on land and soil.

I see this as the start, rather than the end, of IEMA’s guidance on this important area and look forward to further innovations in methodological development and seeing future examples of good practice from EIA members and EIA Quality Mark organisations. I am hopeful that this publication will act as a catalyst for the strengthening of the consideration and protection of our vital and finite land and soil resources through impact assessment and planning.

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Rufus Howard

Policy and Engagement Lead, IEMA

Dr Howard is the policy and engagement lead for Impact Assessment at IEMA and a leading professional in EIA, with two decades of international experience across renewable energy and major infrastructure.