Paying farmers to look after their soil could curb flooding, boost crop production and wildlife, and help tackle climate change, a report says.
A recent Royal Society report warns that poorly-managed soils which are compacted or eroding can reduce yields, contribute to floods and adversely affect water quality.
Many farmers are already taking care of soils but it can come with costs for which they are not reimbursed.
Professor Alastair Fitter, emeritus professor of ecology at York University and a lead Royal Society Fellow on the report, said: “We should all be as appalled by badly managed soils in our fields as we are by the continuing loss of our woods or wetlands.
“Our soils lock away more carbon than the vegetation on them, they provide 95% of our food, and when managed well they limit the risk of flooding, while supporting a vast array of life.”
The experts said that new measures are needed, such as planting cover crops instead of leaving fields bare in winter, planting grass leys in rotation, more hedges, and developing small wetlands alongside crops or pasture.