Lead Research Organisation: NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology


Over the next five years CEH will deliver its strategy, Meeting the Challenges of Environmental Change, by Science Areas underpinned by Monitoring & Observation Systems and Environmental Informatics, through Business and Policy Innovation, and Public Engagement. Soils are critical for life. Sound scientific knowledge of soil functioning is essential to assure UK and global security for food, fuel and water. Soils provide nutrients and water to grow our food, moderate floods and droughts, help regulate our climate, and support a large and diverse biological community. These and other societal benefits depend crucially on soil quantity and condition, both of which are currently at risk from threats such as over-exploitation, contamination and climate change. Understanding and managing the diverse, and sometimes conflicting, services provided by soils demands an integrated, multidisciplinary approach. The multidisciplinary research at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) makes us ideally placed to develop new understanding of soil function and the relative importance of soil biota, physical and chemical properties and their emergent properties across scales. We will apply this knowledge for improved sustainable management of soil and the ecosystem services soils provide. CEH provides a foundation on which UK soil science can come together and interact with international partners to deliver this ambition.


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Description The following are just a few highlights from the CEH Soils Science Research:
a) Ongoing high use of the UK Soil Observation platform with > 200 site visits per day and 45,000 users & 4000 data records for the MySoil app. This is a partnership initiative with 8 key soil data providers across the UK.
b) Using our new integrated carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus system we have quantified the impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on soil carbon sequestration
c) CEH led on an article exploring how we might attempt to economically value the contribution of soils to the provision of ecosystem services. We go on to examine economic valuation methods and review economic valuation of soils. By surveying prices of soils on the web we are able to make a first, limited global assessment of direct market value of topsoil prices. We then consider other research efforts to value soil. Finally, we consider how the valuation of soil can meaningfully be used in the introduction of improved resource management mechanisms such as decision support tools on which valuation can be based, within the UN's System of Environmental and Economic Accounts (SEEA) and policy mechanisms like Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). On the value of soil resources in the context of natural capital and ecosystem service delivery.
d) We have improved the representation of soils in the ecosystem service model called LUCI to help Welsh Government help improve the impact of payment to farmers as part of the Welsh agri-environment scheme Glastir.
e) CEH manages one of the longest climate change experiments globally and is active in a series of global meta-analyses and reviews of the results from experimental studies. This has resulted in a series of high impact papers including 3 published or in press in the Nature family. Findings have identified the greater sensitivity of disturbed systems to drought (Nature Communications); evidence of the permanent soil structural change and soil moisture retention capacity in response to modest but repeated summer droughts and the decoupling of soil and plant processes (Scientific Reports); and the greater sensitivity of carbon rich soils (Nature).
f) We continue to develop fundamental new understanding in soil process and soil organic matter turnover by exploiting new methodologies, our long term monitoring data and long term research observatories. Recently activities have been particularly focussed on the role of nitrogen, phosphorus, and pH in influencing the spatial and temporal patterns in soil carbon within the Macronutrient Programme projects. For example, exploitation of our Conwy research platform in the Macronutrient Programme Turf-2-Surf project identified soil pH as an effective integrative soil property which spatially describes a range of other ecosystem services (soil carbon sequestration, water quality regulation, primary production, biodiversity) across a land use gradient from arable to peats (Science of the Total Environment, In press) with many more papers pending. This is important as soil pH is a relatively easy soil property to both crowdsource, map and model compared to many other soil properties and thus could potentially provide a useful practical management tool.
Exploitation Route The integration of monitoring data in the web platform UKSO is enabling a wide range of academics and policy/industry partners to have greater access to soils data.
The modelling work is directly contributing to better targeting of agri-environment payments in Wales
The soil economics work is directly helping inform the wider community of the unseen and non-market benefits of soil.
The modelling work on atmospheric work illustrates the highly connected nature of all the issues which contribute to climate change highlighting the need to integrate policy initiatives.
Our support as Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Inquiry into Soil Health will inform new regulatory frameworks and incentive schemes for soil protection by all UK governments.
Many other activities in our soils area are submitted under Sustainable Land Use, Biosphere and Atmosphere Interactions and Environmental Pollution
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

Description House of Commons Inquiry into Soil Health The Soil SA Lead Prof Bridget Emmett was invited to apply and was appointed as the Specialist Adviser to this Inquiry which sought to highlight the need for a greater emphasis by government on soil health. More than 350 pages of evidence was submitted by 78 organisations and individuals. Oral evidence heard from 13 specialists and with a final session with the minister from Defra. CEH attended all sessions and provided additional private briefings and advice throughout the inquiry. Key issues highlighted by the Inquiry included declines soil carbon and their implications for climate change; evidence of damaging agricultural land practices such as maize on erodible land and their double subsidy; lack of assessment of urban and contaminated land and potential implications for human health and inequalities; and concerns over the lack of any current UK soil monitoring scheme. CEH were asked to supply additional evidence on the magnitude on soil's contribution to UK CO2 emissions, peatland loss and the link between self-reported human health and brown field sites to clarify conflicting evidence provided to the Inquiry. A follow-up meeting was requested by Defra, NE and EA with CEH to help clarify and ensure effective follow-up. CEH will continue to provide a support to government, agencies and the community to ensure effective follow-up to this Inquiry. Data platforms and tools The UK Soil Observatory continues to be a highly effective and well-used data platform which CEH manages with BGS on behalf of the whole soil community. New activities this year included adding a crowdsourcing component to help ground-truth CEH Landcover mapping which will also help improve soils data as vegetation cover is such an important driver of soil change. David Robinson was awarded a NERC KE Fellowship for 3 years which is focussed on ensuring we better understand industry, government and policy needs for soils data which will then inform continued development of the UKSO platform (200 site users/day) and the CEH/BGS mySoil app which has 50,000 users. New research could save significant water use in crop irrigation: Research led by CEH could help improve the estimates of the amount of water needed for crop irrigation, helping to alleviate both water stress and food security issues in many regions by allowing more efficient irrigation across more land. The results have worldwide implication, as irrigation uses 70% of freshwater resources globally. Research values soil's natural capital: Study sets out way of valuing soil's contribution to food and wider ecosystem services across Europe. Soil scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have set out a Europe-wide framework for developing a natural capital accounting structure for soil which considers the impact of land use change, climate change and pollution.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Specialist Adviser to House of Commons Soil Health Inquiry
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee