Chapter 1 Nutrient nation

Chapter 1 – Nutrient Nation

7. I begin this chapter on page 7 with a description of Southern England from the vantage point of the International Space Station. Channel 4 broadcast this sequence on a programme called Live in Space. You can find out more here

8-10. On pages 8-10 I write about the origins of farming in Britain. For more about agriculture during British pre-history one good account can be found in Francis Pryor’s Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans, Harper Perennial (2003). This book looks wider than farming but sets a great context. 

10. On page 10 I mention the importance of pollen based evidence in determining past changes in vegetation. If you’d like to know more about this subject then the US National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration run a very comprehensive website with links to many studies, including those conducted in the UK. Start from this link:

11. On page 11 there are various statistics concerning the size of the agricultural sector in the UK. You can find these and many other details about the British farming scene in Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2013, published by DEFRA and relevant devolved departments. Its on-line here:

11. On the proportions of food we consume that comes from British soils (also page 11) then look at Chapter 7 of the Technical Report from the 2011 National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) compiled by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. See page 212 and found via this link: (scroll down to the Technical Report section where the material is arranged by chapters).

12. On page 12 there is a mention of Hayley Wood in Cambridgeshire. You can find more about that place here:

14. On page 14 there is a brief history of farming fertilizer sources. This includes the quote “Great Britain is like a ghoul, searching the continents for bones to feed its agriculture” This comes from Keatley, W. S., (1976). 100 years of Fertiliser Manufacture. Fertilisers Manufacturers Association, Peterborough.

15. Concerning the mining of Cretaceous deposits for sources of fertiliser, including dinosaur poo (page 14), see O’Connor, (2001). The origins and development of the British coprolite industry, The Bulletin of the Peak District Mines Historical Society. Vol. 14, No.  5. You can see it here:

15-16. For a short history on the rise of the modern fertiliser industry see this website giving further background to points I make on pages 15 and 16:

For a fuller explanation as to the importance of soils for the provision of food then it is worth reading Wolfe, D. W., (2001). Tales from the underground a natural history of subterranean life. Perseus. Cambridge, Mass.

16. On page 16 I mention the historic British wheat yield and compare it with the modern one. The source for these figures is the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011) The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, p. 198. (scroll down to the Technical Report section where the material is arranged by chapters).

17. Concerning the economic costs and other impacts arising from nitrogen pollution that I describe on page 17, then see 
Sutton, M. A. et al., (2011). European Nitrogen Assessment: Sources, Effects and Policy Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. You can find out much more here:

17. More specifically on the human health impacts arising from elevated reactive nitrogen levels in the environment readers might like to see Townsend, A. R., et al., (2003). Human health effects of a changing global nitrogen cycle. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1(5) pp.240–246

17-18. For more on the environmental effects of nitrogen pollution readers might like to see: Jarvie, H.P., et al (2010) Streamwater phosphorus and nitrogen across a gradient in rural–agricultural land use intensity. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment, 135 (4), 238-252.

17. Specifically in relation to grasslands see Watson, C.F. & Foy, R.H. (2001) ‘Environmental impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in grassland systems’, Outlook on Agriculture, 30, 117–127.

18. On page 18 I suggest there might be a relatively near-term mis-match between phosphate supply and demand, raising potential challenges for future food security. Readers can find out more about that from: Cordell, D., Drangert, J-O., White, S., (2009). The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. Global Environmental Change 19. 292-305. You can click through to that here: 
19. On page 19 I mention historic patterns of soil erosion and the specific case of the South Downs, where there was heavy soil loss during the Bronze and Iron Ages. For an academic source on this subject I used Boardman, J.,  (2003). Soil erosion and flooding on the eastern South Downs, Southern England, 1976-2001. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers Vol 28 (2), 176-196. You can find it here:

20. On page 20 I include the estimate that soil damage is costing the UK between £900 and £1.4 billion per year. The source for this is Graves, A., Morris,J., Deeks, L., Rickson, J.,  Kibblewhite, M., Harris, J. and  Fairwell, T.,  (2011). The Total Costs of Soils Degradation in England and Wales. DEFRA. You can find that report here:,d.ZGU

21-26. From page 21 to 26 I describe a visit to the farm run by Tolhurst Organic Partnership at Whitchurch-on-Thames, Oxfordshire This took place in December 2013.
27. On page 27 I write about the business of Vital Earth Limited. You can find out more about that company here: I also mention (on page 28) one of Vital Earth’s customers in the form of James Chamberlain. He runs Glebe Farm, Shardlow, Derbyshire.

28-29. For more on the Allerton Project and work to conserve soils, which I mention on page 28-29, look at Stoate, C, Leake, A, Jarvis, P & Szczur, J (2012) Fields for the future: The Allerton Project - A winning blueprint for farming, wildlife and the environment. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge. You can find that on-line here:

29-32. For more details on the Thames Water phosphate recovery plant that I describe on pages 29-32 have a look at this link:

32-34. For more on the anaerobic digestion plant I describe on pages 32-34 take a look here For further material on AD technology more generally then the website of the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association is a good place to start: