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ARCHIVE: Soil: Research and monitoring

Background
Soil Protection Programme, Non R&D projects, UK soil research audit

Soil monitoring
Representative Soil Sampling Scheme, Land Information System, Countryside Survey, Environmental Change Network, Geochemical Baseline Survey of the Environment, Multi-Agency Geographic Information for the Countryside

Soil indicators
UK Soil Indicators Consortium, Soil Organic Matter, biological indicators, remote sensing

Access to soils information
Government commitment and projects

Background
Soil Protection Programme

Soil research is carried out by numerous organisations, often as part of applied programmes with objectives that vary from reducing the lean of the Tower of Pisa to increasing the species diversity of chalk grassland on the South Downs.

Defra needs evidence to determine the best means of monitoring soil quality, to support soil protection policies, and to monitor the impact on soil quality of subsequent changes in management.

To protect soils we need sufficient evidence on the functions they perform for society and an assessment of the threats that they face.

The Soil Protection programme commissions the necessary R&D required to underpin this policy development.

Five assessment units make up the Soil Protection programme:

To search for all Defra-funded science and research projects please visit:

Non R&D projects

Defra also funds ‘non R&D’ soils projects including a number of projects relating to soils in the built environment. These are searchable at: www.defra.gsi.gov.uk/environment/land/soil/built-environ/evidence-base.htm

Example projects:

  • Soils in the built environment – a strategy for the construction sector (2005)

UK Soil Research Audit

Soil R&D will continue to play a key role in the development of soil policy.

The UK Soil Research Audit was completed by Drew Associates in October 2003 and provides information and assistance for funders, researchers and users planning future soil research. The results are important for numerous organisations, agencies and businesses involved in land use and management, bioremediation, protection of soils from flooding, erosion and development, conservation, biodiversity and soil health.

Impacts of sewage sludge on soil quality (SP01)

Work under this unit provides the evidence Defra needs to underpin long term protection of the national soil resource and prevention of contamination resulting in damage to human, animal or soil health as a result of spreading sewage sludge to land.

Defra is committed to ensuring that any revisions to the Sewage Sludge Directive (1986/278/EEC) recognise the benefits of applying sewage sludge to land whilst ensuring that it is carried out in ways which do not impair the long term functioning of soils.

Objectives:

  • Obtain a sound scientific base to ensure that any future revisions to policy recognise the potential benefits of the application of sludge to land whilst ensuring that sludge does not impair the long-term functioning of soils.
  • Monitor, and update as and when appropriate, guidance on applying sewage sludge to land over the long term.
  • Identify the pathways and fates of contaminants (heavy metals) derived from sewage sludge and their effect on soil fertility and functioning, crops establishment and food quality/safety and over the long term.
  • Help develop quality standards to ensure recycling of organic materials through soils remains a viable option, whilst protecting soil functions, the wider environment and human health.

Example project:

  • Effects of sewage sludge on agricultural productivity and soil fertility (Phase III) (SP0130): evaluating effects of the established range of soil heavy metal concentrations on soil microbial activity, implications for agricultural productivity and long-term soil fertility.

Details of all projects under this assessment unit can be found by searching the term “SP01” in Defra’s R&D Project Search function.

Soil erosion (SP04)

Research on soil erosion supports Defra’s soil protection policies such as CAP cross compliance and agri-environment schemes. It relates to the transport of nutrients and contaminants that can cause air or water pollution, for which we have stringent targets to meet under the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).

Objectives:

Provide the evidence base to:

  • keep updated best practice guidance on the protection of soils (including the Code of Good Agricultural Practice and the Cross Compliance Guidance for soil management).
  • monitor the extent of and temporal changes in soil erosion to examine the impact of policy changes on the national soil resource.

Example projects:

  • Documenting soil erosion rates on agricultural land in England and Wales – Parts 1 & 2 (SP0411 & SP0413): using measurements of Caesium-137 adsorbed to soil particles for reconnaissance assessment of gross and net soil erosion rates.

Details of all projects under this assessment unit can be found by searching the term “SP04” in Defra’s R&D Project Search function.

Soil management, indicators and quality (SP05)

National information and databases are necessary for Defra to determine the best means of monitoring soil quality and to monitor the impact on soil quality of subsequent changes in management.

Objectives:

  • Quantify the diversity, quality and extent of soils.
  • Identify and quantify the factors that affect soil functions, in particular where functions are threatened.
  • Develop policy and land management options for reducing/eliminating these threats and for sustainable soil management.
  • Monitor:
    • the quality of the national soil resource.
    • the extent of, and temporal changes in, soil quality to examine the impact of policy changes on the national soil resource.
  • Determine:
    • the impacts of land management practices and environmental parameters on soil functions and properties (chemical, physical & biological).
    • the factors controlling the ability of soils to support particular functions and any threats to maintaining soil multi-functionality.
    • the ability of soils to recover from disruption or deterioration of soil quality.
  • Identify and develop sustainable soil management practices.
  • Develop national indicators of soil quality and determine appropriate monitoring strategies.

Example projects:

  • Design of a UK Soil Monitoring Scheme (SP0558): developing a UK monitoring scheme and framework for delivery based on identified indicators of soil function.
  • Organic Manure and Crop Organic Carbon Returns – Effects on Soil Quality (SOIL-QC) (SP0530): providing an improved understanding of the processes and linkages through which organic carbon additions influence soil bio-physical and physico-chemical properties.
  • Scoping biological indicators of soil quality – phase II (SP0534): developing a set of policy relevant and scientifically robust indicators of soil quality.

Details of all projects under this assessment unit can be found by searching the term “SP05” in Defra’s R&D Project Search function.

Soils in the built environment (SP07)

Defra needs sound evidence to ensure that soil functions are protected in the built environment.

In order to protect soils in the built environment sufficient evidence is needed on what functions they perform for society and an assessment of the threats they face. This will allow Defra to develop better techniques for built environment soil management.

Objectives:

  • Provide underpinning evidence:
    • to support the protection of soils and soil functions in the built environment.
    • to influence the policies of other Government departments that impact upon soils, particularly in relation to societal and economic benefits.
  • Determine the role of soils in the built environment, the threats to these and how to deal with them.
  • Develop policy and management options for the protection of soils in the planning system.
  • Examine the patterns of soil loss within developed areas and determine current trends.

Example project:

  • Fate of surplus soil at development sites (SP0701): using case studies at sites across England to produce a Good Practice note on sustainable soil use on construction and development sites.

Details of all projects under this assessment unit can be found by searching the term “SP07” in Defra’s R&D Project Search function.

Further projects related to soils in the built environment can be found at:
www.defra.gov.uk/environment/land/soil/built-environ/evidence-base.htm.

Soil resources: strategic underpinning for soil science (SP09)

Defra has a statutory duty to ensure that it has the information available for effective land use and soil conservation policies. This unit provides maintenance and updating of a comprehensive database on soil quality and land conservation to ensure that the essential underpinning for Defra soils R&D is available.

Objectives:

  • Obtain a sound scientific base for policy preparation and development on soil and land protection issues.
  • Increase the accessibility of soil data to other users by ensuring the continuing quality and maintenance of the data.
  • Provide national information and databases on soil quality and land classification to meet research and policy needs.
  • Increase access to soil information for government.
  • Set up a programme of soil monitoring to examine trends and impacts of policy.

Example project:

  • Landis Reference Site support (SP0901): maintains the national computerised database system for soils and related environmental information for the UK.

Details of all projects under this assessment unit can be found by searching the terms “SP09” and “SR01” in Defra’s R&D Project Search function.

Page last modified: 3 April 2009
Page published 26 February 2004