'Soil Matters: Managing Scotland’s Soils in the 21st Century' Weekend 2019


Ardtornish House, Lochaline, Morvern, North Argyll

This 12th Andrew Raven Trust Weekend had as its subject a truly foundational topic: the very earth under our feet. The crucial importance of soil to the future environmental, ecological and economic health of the planet has become increasingly widely recognised over the last few years.

35 individuals with backgrounds in soil science, scientific research, social science, rural and environmental policy, practical land management and farming and the arts came together to debate and discuss the topic of Scotland’s future soil management.

Professor Richard Bardgett from Manchester University highlighted some of the vital points in his Saturday morning lecture:

Why does soil matter?
Firstly, for food production:
• Nearly all food producing plants grow in soil, which provides nutrients, water and  anchorage.
• 95% of food produced relies directly or indirectly on the soil (83% of people in sub- Saharan Africa rely directly on the soil for their food)
Secondly, in relation to climate change:
• Soil is the third largest global carbon pool after fossil fuel and the ocean pool. We  need to manage it properly.
• Soil carbon stocks might be greater than expected, with large pools of carbon being  missed by inventories that only sample the surface soil.
• Soil carbon content is a balance: input through photosynthesis/organic matter, and  output as CO2 into the atmosphere and dissolved organic carbon into water. These  are natural processes, but the rate of carbon loss is greatly increased by human  intervention when, for example grassland and forest is converted to farming.
• Climate warming can destabilise carbon pools through drying and warming of soils  which stimulates carbon breakdown. Soils high in organic matter like peats are  particularly sensitive.

What can we do?
• We need greater scientific and political awareness of the importance of soil.
• New science can help – we probably have the knowledge now to make a difference.
• Soil health needs to be embedded in all future land use decisions.
• Soil should be seen as an investment: part of the ‘business premises’ of a farm, to be  protected and cared for.
• Civilization has its roots in the soil, and without soil there will be no future life.

Big problems were aired and imaginative solutions were proposed. Global issues were raised, but viewed from local and on-the-ground experience. Scotland and Scottish expertise were centre stage.

Full report

The full report of the weekend talks and discussions follows or can be downloaded as a pdf. 

Trustees are very grateful to Sara Davies for producing this report. 

Sara is a freelance writer, producer and abridger of fiction and non-fiction for radio. She was a staff radio producer at BBC in Bristol for twenty years, working on a range of arts and literary features and documentaries, dramas and readings for Radio 4 and Radio 3. She divides her time between Glasgow and Morvern.