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Healthy soils for a green recovery


As the interim report of the EU Mission Board for Soil health and food states “Soils provide us with nutritious food and other products as well as with clean water and flourishing habitats for biodiversity. At the same time, soils can help slow the onset of climate change and make us more resilient to extreme climate events such as droughts and floods. Soils preserve our cultural heritage and are a key part of the landscapes that we all cherish. Simply put, healthy living soils keep us, and the world around us, alive.”

There is an imperative to protect soils, improve soil health and identify the roles and contributions of Scotland’s soils in delivering key beneficial services. However, there is currently a lack of knowledge of the mechanistic understanding of how the complex interactions of soil deliver individual and interlinked functions. Also, the definition of soil function and the determination of its boundaries is not a simple task. Soil functions are described as the flows and transformations of mass, energy, and genetic information that connect soil to the wider critical zone, transmitting the impacts of human activity at the land surface and providing a control point for beneficial human intervention. As a result, the soil functional outcome is a result of interactions among physical, chemical, biological including human factors.

Further advances in knowledge are required to understand

  • How complex soil interactions and functions can continue to provide societal benefits

  • How to protect soils through the development of new management practices

  • To support the monitoring of Scotland’s soil health and measure the vulnerability of Scottish soils to existing and future perturbations

  • To offer nature-based solutions for the remediation and protection of soil


  • What are the roles and contributions of Scotland’s soils in delivering key ecosystem services such as net GHG reductions, food production, biodiversity, flood regulation, water availability and water quality?
  • How do we apply this knowledge to effectively target resources and interventions to maximize soil protection whilst ensuring soils can continue to deliver key ecosystem services including co-benefits?
  • How can we best use Nature-based Solutions to protect our soils and achieve sustainable soil management?


This project delivers new insights and knowledge on the role of Scottish soils, and the benefits they confer, as well as identifying and developing strategies to mitigate degradation, reduce loss and enhance soil health.


Soil Ecosystem Services (Lead: Eric Paterson)

We are gaining a deeper understanding of which soil functions are regulated by intrinsic soil properties in several Scottish ecosystems, and how management can drive changes in function and ecosystem service delivery. Soils will be characterised across contrasting land types and managements to assess functional capacity underpinning ecosystem services essential to gain an understanding of the multifunctionality of soils. New research and data synthesis will identify and validate emerging land management practices to maintain and improve soil health, identify potential indicators of improvement, and quantify trade-offs between soil functions impacting ecosystem service delivery. Linkages between biogeochemical processes, plant genotype, and soil biology (e.g. microbiome) that underpin GHG fluxes and plant productivity will be explored.


Soil Protection and Management (Lead: Tracy Valentine)

This project seeks to protect soils through the develop sustainable soil management practices implemented across multiple environments. This is being achieved via innovations in soil management techniques or by increasing systems-based understanding of the impact of management combinations, including nature-based solutions to generate, for example, disease-suppressive soils. The impacts of adopting these techniques are being assessed through existing and innovative monitoring methodologies.


Assessing Scotland’s soil health (Lead: Nikki Baggaley)

We are assessing the impacts of adopting different management techniques through existing and innovative monitoring methodologies. This involves validating a suite of indicators across a range of soils and sectors and evaluating new indicators based on novel techniques relevant to specific ecosystems and land management (agriculture, urban, forestry and upland habitats). Assessing indicators is crucial for evaluating their suitability for a national monitoring framework to support land-based businesses in managing soil sustainably across land use sectors and providing practical management interventions. This activity supports the Centrepeat and Integrated socio-environmental modelling of policy scenarios for Scotland projects which are establishing a soil monitoring framework.


Informing on the importance of Scottish Soils (Lead: Ken Loades)

This project is creating a Scottish Soils Network to disseminate the outcomes of this project to the right audience, in the right language and the right format. We aim to serve as a single conduit for soils-based Knowledge Exchange with the overriding aim to collate and publicise outputs from not only this project but also the Centrepeat project, and othersThis supported by a range of activities including:

  • A Scottish Soils Network bulletin summarizing recent findings
  • Disseminating outcomes at high-profile events
  • Organising an annual Scottish Soils Network workshop and conference
  • Developing online summary case studies, blogs, and podcasts
  • Iterative development of a data dashboard and virtual tour
  • Stakeholder engagement, for example, mobile phone app testing, technosols and agricultural practitioners

Outputs generated by the project are being periodically added to the project's online repository. 


Overall, this project delivers data underpinning significant advances in our scientific understanding of soil function and the complex role that soil has in contributing to ecosystem services. This is helping us to develop strategies for sustainable management and minimization of degradation and loss of Scotland’s soils. 

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