SWFC’s Anthony Ellis reports back from his BASIS (Advanced) Quality of Soils module at the University of Lincoln
Set over two separate weeks in December and January, the BASIS Advanced Quality of Soils course is designed to give farmers, growers and advisors (like me) an in-depth understanding of the chemical, physical and biological properties of our most precious natural asset and resource, soil. A core theme throughout the course was the importance of understanding that soil functions as an ‘ecosystem’, and how we can use this knowledge to make farming systems more resilient and sustainable.
There were plenty of opportunities to dig holes!
Although the course was largely classroom-based, there were plenty of opportunities for us all to get out into various environments to dig soil pits (see right) and poke about in the ground, as well as a number of practical ‘hands-on’ exercises in the classroom that allowed us to get a feel for different soil types and properties.
Did you know there is more carbon locked away in our soil than the atmosphere and all the world’s vegetation combined? This was one of the key take-home messages from the course. It drove home the fact that we must not underestimate the importance of soil—not only as a future carbon sink but as an established carbon store in itself.
The continued mismanagement of our soils–as is already happening in many parts of the world, including here in the UK–could release a significant portion of this stored soil carbon, adding to the growing levels of atmospheric carbon and worsening the climate emergency.
Soil: A vital natural resource
The other stark reminder of the importance of our soil was that 25% of all of Earths’ biodiversity is found in the soil. And, as we learnt on the course, the soil ecosystem can be hugely affected and influenced by land use.
Soil Biodiversity in Europe
The above graphic, prepared by the EU Commission, highlights the differences in soil biodiversity from the predominantly arable east of the UK to the largely pasture-based, mixed farming rotations of the Southwest. With all the negative press around meat at the moment, we must not lose sight of the vital role grazing livestock can play in maintaining soil health and biodiversity.
Soil is an incredibly complex and fragile ecosystem. As land managers, we all need to recognise that everything we do will have wider consequences to this incredibly diverse habitat that may, in turn, affect our ability to produce food. Let’s all tread carefully!