The Soil Association has welcomed what it says is a “a dramatic shift” in UK government thinking on soil protection and farming practice.

The organic charity’s comments follow a stark warning on the subject from Britain’s pro-Brexit environment secretary, Michael Gove.

Speaking earlier this week at the parliamentary launch of the Sustainable Soils Alliance, Mr Gove said that the UK was only several  decades away “from the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”.

He went on: “We have encouraged a type of farming which has damaged the earth. Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.”

This strongly worded assessment marks a departure from earlier UK government statements on the threat to vital topsoil resources from intensive farming. There are indications too, that the National Farmers Union, which has long defended intensive farming techniques, maybe softening its position.

In a recent blog post, the NFU’s Environment Forum chairman, Mark Pope, wrote: “Aside from all the machinery and tech, there are two key tools on my farm; a trusty spade and the second, most importantly, is the soil; without it, there wouldn’t be a farm … We only get one lot of soil on our farms, so poor management could have major, irreversible impacts for many years to come.”

Gove’s comments will also help to allay fears in organic and environment circles that the UK government plans to pull back on Green regulations after Britain leaves the European Union.

Responding to Michael Gove’s comments, Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, told The Guardian. “There’s been quite a dramatic shift in understanding around what we’re doing to our soils. Everyone is quite bowled over by some of the comments that Michael Gove is making.”

“This isn’t tech, this is the new agricultural revolution – we must be there”

Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, urged the UK government to “lead another revolution in agronomy”. He added: “There is an enormous opportunity here. This isn’t tech, this is the new agricultural revolution – we use be there”.

Video: Helen Browning at this week’s House of Commons launch – Sustainable Soils Alliance