Teenager to cycle 900 miles across UK and Ireland to raise soil crisis awareness

A teenager will cycle 900 miles across the UK and Ireland to raise awareness about soil health only two weeks after deciding to take part.

Oscar Smith, 17, from the Isle of Skye, has never cycled more than 50 miles but decided to undertake this challenge to show “how important soil health is”.

Mr Smith set off on the two-week journey on November 20, alongside 10 core riders who will cycle at least 150 miles each, and a growing number of “support riders” joining along the way.

The Cycle For Soil campaign was created 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 is the only person to be completing the full 900-mile journey.

The core riders will travel 60 miles a day, 7 days a week with no long breaks, and their days will start at sunrise, with stops at local farms, universities and organisations that are championing soil health.

Kit Hayward and Mr Smith set off on their cycle at 6.30am on Sunday (Anna Cruse/PA)
Kit Hayward and Mr Smith set off on their cycle at 6.30am on Sunday (Anna Cruse/PA)

Mr Smith told the PA news agency: “I decided to do the full 900 miles because I really want to show people and put myself on the line, and I guess, put my life on the line, to show people how important soil health is.

“Also, because most people are unaware about soil and how important it is for our wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.

“So, I really want to demonstrate that importance by doing something extremely challenging for my age, and something that I’ve never done.”

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

The journey began in Edinburgh on November 20, and will stop in Belfast on November 23, Dublin on November 25, Birmingham on November 29, Cardiff on November 1, to end on World Soil Day on December 5 outside Parliament in London.

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

Mr Smith said: “The issue of soil degradation is one of the least talked about issues but also probably is the most urgent and important issue that our planet faces because across the world 52% of the agricultural soil has already been degraded and 95% of humanity’s food comes from the soil.

“So basically, if we don’t have any soil, we can’t produce food and we can’t produce healthy food and we can’t sustain life on the planet.”

Oliver Smith, Kit Hayward, and Dorka Prager will conclude their journey on World Soil Day on December 5 (Anna Cruse/PA)
Oliver Smith, Kit Hayward, and Dorka Prager will conclude their journey on World Soil Day on December 5 (Anna Cruse/PA)

The teenager urged everybody to learn about soil degradation and raise awareness in the hope to encourage the Government to implement policy that ensures soil health.

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.

Henry Asplin, 27, a volunteer from London, is also cycling some of the route from Oxford to London and helped organise the challenge.

Mr Asplin said he was shocked by the severity of the figures about soil, and hopes this campaign raises awareness.

Marcelo Fabbi, Kit Hayward, Dorka Prager, Oscar Smith are cycling to raise awareness about soil health (Oscar Smith/PA)
Marcelo Fabbi, Kit Hayward, Dorka Prager, Oscar Smith are cycling to raise awareness about soil health (Oscar Smith/PA)

He said: “We are not activists, we’re not trying to protest, we’re trying to support governments and show that people care about it.

“So, if people want to support us then come to one of the stops, see the cyclists, cheer them on and raise your voice on social media.

“That’s the call to action: just tweet, save soil, speak to your neighbour about soil, raise awareness of the problem, and of course, then if enough people do that then policy will change.”