There’s more to be concerned about than just the things you can easily see.
Walking around in Caversham lately (2022-23), you can’t help but see all the disruption going on – ‘ultrafast’ broadband and Thames Water seem the prime causes.
Let’s leave aside whether all the work is being done well (are leaks fixed effectively; are internet connections actually quicker, etc). Ignoring all those aspects, what also struck me is the collateral damage that comes in the wake of a lot of this work. The driven-over and badly damaged green spaces. The verges left with sand, concrete and tarmac strewn all over them – and this after they’ve been, allegedly, cleared up. Who’s going to be called to account for all this?
People will say there’ll be an equation that has to be worked out between what’s a reasonable level of profit coming out of any work that’s done and what’s an excessive amount. But perhaps that’s a really stupid situation. Perhaps we should all be working to a value system that supports a sustainable future. And if we all want a future, then we need to face the fact that soil, along with water, air and sunlight, is vital to life on earth. And that’s ALL soil. But we – collectively – just don’t value it enough and we don’t pay it enough attention. Make no mistake – soil is everywhere. Every verge and roadside. Every garden whatever the size. In your plant pots and other garden containers. But how often do we think about it … let alone really care about it?
Even just a few millimetres of topsoil (the most productive layer) can take over a hundred years to form naturally. If you trash it by driving a digger over it or dumping rubbish on it you’re doing just that – you’re trashing it. Overly compacted or polluted soil isn’t healthy soil.
And soil isn’t just the easily visible element. There are any number of organisms and micro-organisms in it which are needed by everything – yes, everything – that you can see growing. It’s all interconnected.
And don’t forget that we humans need all aspects of good soil too, and not just for food. From antibiotics to who knows what else – without healthy soil, we all lose out.
But as ever, talk is cheap. It’s not exactly useful to just go on about all this. The focus has to be on what you actually do.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, ultimately, what you do personally to look after the soil is up to you. It’s your choice. After all, you don’t need specialist knowledge to understand that healthy soil is a good thing for everyone. You don’t need to be a genius to work out that we all live in a hugely intricate, interconnected world – and that damaging any part of it, however small, will have knock-ons. And let’s face it, even if you aren’t sure about any of it, it’s easy to find out – without being a specialist.
With none of this being especially difficult, in the end it comes down to what are we are going to actually do. Yes, you and me. Yes, do. We personally have to decide how much effort we are going to put in to looking after any soil we have any control over or impact on. It comes down to us – and all of us – as individuals. Because all the big things – national trends and policies and whatever else – they all start with individual people. It’s a cop-out to pretend that personal actions don’t make any difference. We might not be able to change the world overnight, but we can help the process along.
So, what can we decide to do?
Looking After What’s Yours
If, like me, you’re ‘in charge’ of some of your own soil – however large or small the amount – at the very least you can be looking into enriching it. Adding garden compost, leaf mould, rotted manure, green manure; there are all sorts of methods.
As I’m not in any way experienced with things gardening, I look for help. There are huge amounts of books and magazines out there. (I must say I’ve found Alan Titchmarsh is good at making things understandable – and his advice is often very affordable.) And there are any number of websites. But perhaps the logical place to start is the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) site. I’ve found a vast amount of advice there, and it’s free.
Another aspect to gardening I’ll mention is not digging. I’m a fairly lazy gardener and I make no secret of it. This earlier entry about not cutting your grass very often illustrates my attitude to lawns.
And, pleasingly, there’s a ‘no dig’ approach to soil. No, it’s not a case of never digging anything ever again, but it certainly is a far less digging-intensive method. The pioneer on this front seems to be Charles Dowding. His website is here and it includes free advice along with more in-depth resources.
And Looking After What’s Not Yours
Perhaps you are someone who is personally responsible for ‘public soil’ – verges and parks for example, but anywhere else too. I’m thinking of anyone who’s working for a council (not just Reading) or any other public body that has some influence over how soil (of any amount) is treated. And I’m thinking, too, about anyone who has a comparable ability and responsibility but who works for a private company.
And I mean everyone – whatever your role or job title.
Whoever you are, I’d say that exactly the same factors that apply to an individual gardener come into play. All the reasons for properly looking after any soil you are responsible for remain easy to understand and just as relevant. And if anything, it’s going to be likely that the impact your decisions and actions have will be greater than is likely for the typical domestic garden.
Incidentally, if you’re aware of problems with ‘public soil’ but you can’t do anything about it directly then, at the very least, report it. Two simple options are:
And In The End
Thinking about all this, in the end it comes down to our consciences. What we do makes a difference. If we want to, we can all make positive choices – but we have to actively make those choices.
I guess, in the end, it comes down to deciding how well we want to sleep at night.