Teen completes 900-mile cycle to raise soil crisis awareness on World Soil Day

Oscar Smith was welcomed by a group of Save Soil campaigners in Parliament Square, London.

Save Soil Campaign cycle ride
Save Soil Campaign cycle ride

A teenager who has completed a 900-mile cycle across the UK and Ireland to raise awareness of the soil crisis hopes the trip will show the Government “this is so important.”

Oscar Smith, 17, rode alongside 10 core riders who cycled at least 150 miles each as part of the Cycle for Soil campaign by Save Soil, a global ecological movement aiming to educate the public about the role that soil plays in sustainability and push for meaningful policy change.

Mr Smith, the only person to complete the full two-week journey through Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham, and Cardiff, was welcomed by a group gathered in Parliament Square, London, on Monday – World Soil Day – for the movement’s campaign.

“Eighty seven per cent of life on earth comes from the thin layer of 15 inches of topsoil,” Mr Smith, from the Isle of Skye, told the PA news agency.

Save Soil Campaign cycle ride
Oscar Smith, 17, cycled 900 miles across the UK and Ireland for Save Soil (Yui Mok/PA)

“In a simple fact, if we had no soil, we can’t have any life.

“I hope that the Government will see that myself, a 17-year-old kid, is cycling 900 miles for the soil because this is so important.”

Mr Smith, who works in a pub, came across a YouTube video about the soil crisis in the UK and decided to start volunteering for Save Soil.

He cycled 50-60 miles a day, 7 days a week and with other riders, stopped at local farms, universities, and organisations that are championing soil health.

Save Soil Campaign cycle ride
The teenager was welcomed by other Save Soil campaigners on Monday (Yui Mok/PA)

Dr Simon Jeffrey, a soil microbial ecologist at Harper Adams University, Shropshire, told Mr Smith while he stopped at Soulton Hall Farm: “Approximately 75% of our soils are at least moderately degraded.”

“In the UK this number is at around 40%.

“That means it’s predicted that by 2050, if nothing else changes, our average yields globally will be about 10% lower than they are at the moment and the population is only going up.

“Feeding more people with less food is never a good thing to try and achieve.”

Save Soil is backed by the World Food Programme, the United Nations, and the World Economic Forum.

“I would like to see the Government supporting farmers, educating farmers, and making it the norm that soil health should be focused on and put as number one in agricultural land,” Mr Smith said.

Save Soil Campaign cycle ride
Mr Smith said it was an ‘overwhelming reception’ in Parliament Square (Yui Mok/PA)

“I hope that my journey will bring this issue to visibility to wider audiences.”

“It feels overwhelming to have a reception like this,” he said of arriving in London to mark the end of the cycle – which he only decided to do two weeks before he set off.

“It’s been really intense, 16 days of full-on cycling every day, 50-60 miles a day.

“I’m still processing it.”

Labour MP for Ealing Southall Virendra Sharma told PA at Save Soil’s event: “If we want to survive, and if we want to leave that legacy, where the future generations remember us, then this is the visionary approach.”

“That’s why I’m in this cold weather coming out and supporting it.

“I congratulate the organisers for taking this initiative and (carrying) on the fight against those individuals and societies who are trying to destroy our planet.

“To save the planet, Save Soil is that initiative.”

Peer Natalie Bennett and former leader of the Green Party also backed Save Soil in Parliament Square.

Save Soil Campaign cycle ride
Mr Smith (2nd left), is joined by his fellow cyclists Nanou Blair-Gould (left), Stu Russell (2nd right) and Drew Wynen (Yui Mok/PA)

“I’ve come to support the safe soil event here today because it is so crucial to all of our futures,” she told PA.

“And we have a government that’s not focusing on soil in the way it should be.

“And we have soils that are grossly degraded, that are not storing the carbon they should be.

“This isn’t just an issue for scientists, for the government… This is an issue for people, everyone working together to ensure our food security to ensure our climate security to ensure all of our futures.”

Save Soil said that if the world’s soils are not revitalized, 850 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the last 30 years combined, will be released into the atmosphere.

The organisation has called for governments across the world to legislate policies that will mandate a minimum of 3-6% organic content in all agricultural soil in their country.

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