New report on soil biology

Natural England has published a report on Managing Soil Biota to Deliver Ecosystem Services, produced by a team led by Dr Elizabeth Stockdale (Newcastle University) and Dr Christine Watson (Scottish Agricultural College).

Many recent studies have highlighted the fundamental role that soil organisms play in making soils work for us, but also suggest that soil life and its function can be compromised by many commonplace agricultural practices. This report aimed to explore farming practices and systems that can improve the biological function of soil, and deliver benefits to both agriculture and the wider environment. It includes a review of the impacts of different practices, an exploration of selected practices likely to deliver benefits, feedback from farmers’ workshops on the practicalities of different approaches, and also a series of five case studies (as separate Annexes) which describe soil biological management in action, its benefits and challenges.

The report concludes that the biological function of soils can be enhanced by simple approaches that can be integrated into real farm systems – adapting organic matter management, cultivation approaches and cropping – with likely benefits to both farming and the environment. However, uptake of these approaches was restricted by the lack of UK-based demonstrations, trials and advice, and because it is currently difficult for farmers to measure and evaluate impacts on soil biological health. The report highlights the need to communicate and demonstrate these approaches in real, profitable farm systems, with monitoring of the impacts, costs and benefits.

Matthew Shepherd (matthew.j.shepherd@naturalengland.org.uk), the project officer at Natural England responsible for commissioning the report, is interested in any views or ideas readers of the report might have on the subject.

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