The electric off-road racing series Extreme E starts this weekend. Each race highlights one of the major problems caused by climate change. The first race focuses on deserts and the effects that desertification is having on the world. 

Soil loss is not only a problem in arid environments. Deserts covered Devon between 300 and 200 million years ago when Britain was near the Tropics. The remains of the these deserts are visible in the red soils of Exeter, Mid Devon, and Teignbridge. These soils are the most productive in Devon, but also among the most sensitive to soil erosion.

The Maize Growers Association, based in Shobrooke near Crediton, is one of many organisations looking at how best farming practice can reduce soil loss reduce carbon emissions.

Maize was one of the first crops that First Nation peoples introduced to the Plymouth Colony settlers. The local Abenaki Tribes still practice the Three Sisters method of companion planting Maize, Beans and Squash. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all nine essential amino acids.




Areas sensitive to soil erosion: 

Geology and Soils: 

Red soil, Comptonpool Cross: 


Devon County Council Soil erosion can be a common occurrence in wet years on the sandy soils around Exeter and along the lower River Otter valley. It also occurs more locally on the stony steep soils near Teignmouth and Torbay and along the Redlands that extends towards Crediton. Some of the wetter soils that overlie the red clay mudstones in East Devon (that have a high silt content with unstable topsoils) also have a high risk of runoff and erosion. These soils are particularly sensitive to compaction where harvesting of crops occurs late in the year in wet conditions. 


Natural Devon Land quality is a major factor in determining the type of agriculture an area can support. The best and most versatile agricultural land is defined as Grades 1, 2 and 3a with Grades 3b, 4 and 5 representing poorer quality agricultural land. The grading system considers climate, gradient, flood risk and the soil quality. Grade 1 land is concentrated in or close to the Exe valley, with areas of Grade 2 land also occurring in Teignbridge, to the east of Plymouth, in limited areas of the South Hams, in a belt across Mid Devon and in part of East Devon. The poorest, Grade 5 land is limited to the uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor, while Grade 4 land occurs around their fringes, together with large parts of West Devon and Torridge, corresponding to the Culm Measures 


Soil structural degradation in SW England and its impact on surface-water runoff generation Field investigations between 2002 and 2011 identified soil structural degradation to be widespread in SW England with 38% of the 3243 surveyed sites having sufficiently degraded soil structure to produce observable features of enhanced surface-water runoff within the landscape. Soil under arable crops often had high or severe levels of structural degradation. Late-harvested crops such as maize had the most damaged soil where 75% of sites were found to have degraded structure generating enhanced surface-water runoff. Soil erosion in these crops was found at over one in five sites. A tendency for the establishment of winter cereals in late autumn in the South West also often resulted in damaged soil where degraded structure and enhanced surface-water runoff were found in three of every five cereal fields. Remedial actions to improve soil structure are either not being undertaken or are being unsuccessfully used. Brown Sands, Brown Earths and loamy Stagnogley Soils were the most frequently damaged soils. The intensive use of well-drained, high quality sandy and coarse loamy soils has led to soil structural damage resulting in enhanced surface-water runoff from fields that should naturally absorb winter rain. Surface water pollution, localized flooding and reduced winter recharge rates to aquifers result from this damage. Chalk and limestone landscapes on the other hand show little evidence of serious soil structural degradation and <20% of fields in these landscapes generate enhanced runoff. 


State of the Environment Report Environment Agency data and information summarising the state of soil, air quality, water resources and water quality in England. 


Maize Gowers Association Maize is more water efficient and stores more carbon than many other crops. Maize is also an excellent target crop for the efficient use of organic manures. Such positives must be balanced with the soil structure, nutrient overload and biodiversity challenges associated with the crop. The MGA environment publications, being free to all, attempt to inform growers of the positives and potential negatives of growing maize and other wholecrop forages. 


Championing the Farmed Environment The key to good soil management is to understand the soil types on your farm. This can vary dramatically across a holding and it is important that where there is variation it is managed appropriately.


  • Well-structured soil which is free from compaction and has good levels of soil organic matter will usually be free-draining and support good crop growth.
  • Good soil health is fundamental to profitable farming and a cleaner environment.
  • Good soil management will help to increase resistance to pests and diseases and will help improve the utilisation of fertilisers.
  • Resilience at times of either drought or flood will be enhanced due to a greater rooting capacity where you have good soil structure.

There are many simple steps you can take to ensure good soil management on your farm promotes the health of the environment alongside the health of your business. 


The SWARM Knowledge Hub is a resource management web information service dedicated to farmers and growers in south west England. By providing knowledge on best practice approaches and new innovations, the site will help to show that sustainable agriculture means more profit for the farming community

Soil erosion has become the most important environmental problem of modern day agriculture. It can remove fertile topsoil, clog drainage systems (which when affecting roads can lead to fines or prosecution) and pollute watercourses. Simple changes in practices can reduce the occurrence and intensity of these events and provide a range of benefits for your farm. 


Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation Nulhegan mound gardening has been passed down through generations and is alive and well.  Often referred to as "Three Sisters" gardening - corn, squash, and beans are planted together and have complimented one another for centuries.  Large amounts of healthy, organic food can be grown on even small parcels of land.  Living sustainable lives and keeping our customs and traditions alive is the only way we know to ensure continuity. 


Wikipedia The Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of various indigenous groups in North America: winter squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans). Originating in Mesoamerica, these three crops were carried northward, up the river valleys over generations, far afield to the Mandan and Iroquois who, among others, used these "Three Sisters" for food and trade.

In a technique known as companion planting the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. Each mound is about 30 cm (12 in) high and 50 cm (20 in) wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together in the centre of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is 15 cm (6 inches) tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds. The process to develop this agricultural knowledge took place over 5,000–6,500 years. Squash was domesticated first, with maize second and then beans being domesticated. Squash was first domesticated 8,000–10,000 years ago.

The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent the establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Corn, beans, and squash contain complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and all nine essential amino acids.

Native Americans throughout North America are known for growing variations of Three Sisters gardens. 

Samoset (also Somerset, c. 1590–c. 1653) was an Abenaki sagamore and the first Native American to make contact with the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. He startled the colonists on March 16, 1621, by walking into Plymouth Colony and greeting them in English, saying "welcome". 


Extinction Rebellion Farmers The broad purpose of this group is for people in farming to come together as part of Extinction Rebellion and in support of non-violent rebellion and civil disobedience in this time of climate and ecological crisis This group is fairly new and how we work towards our purpose can take many forms and we very much welcome people to come together to discuss how we go about it

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Extreme E is an FIA-sanctioned international off-road racing series that uses spec electric SUVs to race in remote parts of the world, such as the Amazon rainforest or the Arctic. All racing locations are chosen to raise awareness for some aspects of climate change and Extreme E maintains a "Legacy Programme" which intends to provide social and environmental support for those locations. The series also promotes gender equality in motorsport by mandating that all teams consist of a female and a male driver who share equal driving duties. The first season is planned to start in April 2021. 

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