Keeping our soil healthy

By Felicity Crotty, GWCT Soil Scientist

Soil HealthAt the Allerton Project agricultural soil is one of our greatest concerns, and maintaining a sustainable and profitable soil for future farming needs and the environment is a key focus ofour research.

We were delighted to see a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee on soil health which covers three main areas: contaminated land; soil as a carbon sink in relation to climate change; and agriculture. Soil health can be defined as a soil’s ability to function and sustain plants, animals and humans as part of the ecosystem.

In reality, only ‘living’ things can have health, and by introducing the concept of soil health the report is (unconsciously) acknowledging that we regard soil as a living ecosystem and not just an inert base for agriculture, leisure or urbanisation. The report highlights that crucial elements of soil health, such as structure and soil biology, are not adequately assessed.

At the Allerton Project, we have set up a number of experiments and demonstrations, looking at how soil biology (earthworms, mesofauna, bacteria), physics (structure) and chemistry (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and carbon) are affected by agricultural management. Our current examples include the ‘Sustainable Intensification research Platform’ (SIP), EU Horizon 2020 project ‘SOILCARE’, and the Research Council funded Soil Quality project.

Critically, the report stresses the need for on-going national-scale monitoring for soil health which the UK currently lacks.

We have always focused on the whole farm ecosystem at the Project. Monitoring soil health as part of our standard farm practice enables us to demonstrate to the agricultural community the benefits of looking after our soils over the last 20 years

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