Soil is underappreciated. But it’s vital in so many ways. Here’s a look at the importance of soil – and why soil matters so much.
Soil! It’s one of the most underrated and little understood wonders on our fragile planet. Here’s why. Far from being lifeless dirt, it’s estimated that there could be as many as 50,000 species of microscopic organisms or microorganisms in a single gram of soil. And in one teaspoon of soil, there are more microorganisms than there are people on the earth.
But much of what lies beneath in this hidden and deep universe is still alien to us, despite being literally under our feet. Humans have so far only identified a tiny fraction of the extraordinary life teeming underground. But these animals and microorganisms provide an invaluable role.
Millions of years of evolutionary competition have led the microorganisms to produce antibiotic compounds to fight their neighbors. And these compounds form the basis of many of the antibiotics used by us humans. We literally make medicine from our soil. No one knows how many new treatments could be lying under our feet waiting to be discovered. One of the most special creatures living in the soil is the earthworm.
Darwin was fascinated by them and said, maybe doubted if there are any other animals, which have played such an important part in history. Due to their importance in making and sustaining soil. Earthworms journey down and around, creating breathing holes like lungs in the soil. This creates space for plant roots to grow and keep soil ally.
Under the soil, there are also vast and intricate webs of fungal threads. Plants and fungi need each other to thrive. And so they do a deal. Funghi can’t capture carbon dioxide to grow as plants can, but they’re better than plants at mining. For nutrients, the trade plants give Funghi carbon to grow, and fungi give plants nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. And just one example of the interconnected ecosystem we’re all part of plant matter decays and provides food for microbes. They provide food for worms, learns for food for birds, and so on. Soil provides us, humans, with almost everything we eat. But it’s not just about what soils can do for us.
It’s important we value, appreciate, and crucially protect the soil for many other reasons to think about this for a moment. It takes more than 100 years to build just five millimeters, half a centimeter of soil, but just moments to destroy through chemical contamination, urbanization, landslides, erosion, and more. Some soil is ancient, dating back millions and millions of years.
The oldest soil on earth is thought to be in South Africa and dates back 3 billion years. Our soil is around 15,000 years old in the UK and is formed after the last icy soil is also a really valuable carbon store capturing carbon, locking it away, and staple forms deep underground. It stores three times as much carbon as all the plants on earth combined, including trees. But because it grows so slowly, we need to protect what we have.
We are not succeeding. We know many of the problems. Intensive farming is one of them. It releases carbon from our soils, and we’re losing soil 50 to 100 times faster than it’s able to rebuild. In Europe, 60 to 70% of soils are thought to be unhealthy.
And in croplands in the UK. In less than 30 years from the end of the 1970s, we lost more than 10% of the carbon the soil had stored for us. And since then, well, we just don’t know. Because in many countries, this little data on soil is poorly protected and regulated. We grow on it, building it build from it. It filters and cleans our waters, reduces flooding, and regulates our atmosphere.
It’s one of the most biodiverse habitats on earth and a vital part of our planet’s nitrogen and carbon cycle. But the sad truth is right now. The soil hasn’t enough champions fighting for it. We literally treat it like dirt. And yet, there is so much untapped potential. So much wonder and so many secrets just waiting to be discovered in the ground beneath our feet.
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