soil research

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By Georgina Smith, Rhys Bolt, Robyn Plummer, Alan Monk and Eleanor Wright

students

A group of five second year students have been set the task of investigating how people use fertilisers and pesticides in their gardens and allotments and the impact on soil fertility as part of a 20 credit real-life environmental consultancy module on the BSc Environmental Science and Geography degree programmes. This study will focus on the Earley area, which is located within the Loddon catchment.

How will this research help the wider community? This is an ideal opportunity for residents to get their soil tested for free. Phosphorus, nitrogen, pH and organic matter will be measured.  All factors are important for plant growth, and therefore knowing these soil properties will help residents understand their current soil fertility to inform their choices about the amount of fertiliser to apply.

How will students use the data?  The data obtained from the door-to-door survey and the analysis of soil samples will provide the students with information to produce quality analysis of soil in gardens in Earley and further information on the level of fertiliser and pesticide use.  Soil fertility will be compared to soil samples collected from the University of Reading farm at Arborfield to see if gardens are more or less fertile than farmers’ fields used for crop production. It is important to stress that all data will be anonymised and presented as aggregated values for the area, as strict data protection procedures in place.

“This is an exciting project as we know almost nothing about soil fertility, fertiliser and pesticide use within people’s gardens and allotments” says Dr Joanna Clark, module convenor.  Many urban areas were not mapped when the Soil Survey produced soil maps for England and Wales. Gardens and allotments are not subject to the same regulatory controls as agricultural land.

The project is being run in collaboration with Hampshire and Isle of Weight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) who host the Loddon Catchment Partnership (LCP).  The LCP is part of a national network of Catchment Partnerships established to enable communities to take action to improve the quality of their water environment.

Please get in touch with Dr Joanna Clark (j.m.clark@reading.ac.uk) if you live in Earley and would like to take part in the survey.

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‘Are we looking after our soils?’

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

Chris presents to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee

As soon as you enter the House of Commons you get a buzz. There are lots of people engaged in conversation and the sense of being at the centre of government is palpable. The further you enter into the myriad of rooms you can understand the huge expense that will be involved in any refurbishment.

We are in committee room 19, but there are many other meetings indicated on the display boards and you realise the difficulty any campaign will have making an impact.   The presentations go down really well; I focus on the biological variability of soils and the problems of establishing robust soil health indicators as well as introducing the Soil Security Programme. Jack Hennan from Cranfield University describes the physical variability of soils and the limitations of national monitoring. The final speaker is Helen Browning from the Soil Association who presents seven ways we can improve soils.

After drinks about twenty of us have a sit down dinner and Stephen Metcalfe MP the Chairman of the Parliamentary and Science Committee opens the debate ‘Are we looking after our soil’. After 30 minutes of vigorous conversation where a number of soil threats are highlighted (e.g. growing unsuitable crops such as maize, the problems of sustainable management associated with short term tenancies), we search for a single action to recommend.  A commitment to increase organic matter in arable fields by 20% is proposed by Helen Browning. While we can all see pitfalls in this we recognise it as a clear ambition that will have a beneficial outcome.

 

See Professor Chris Collins’ staff profile

Visit the Soil Security Programme website

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On Tuesday 10th February Dr. Tom Sizmur met with growers in Essex and Hertfordshire at Manuden Village Community Centre to talk about how soil structure and crop yield can be improved by adding organic matter to soils and boosting earthworm populations.

Read the full story on the Soil Research Centre blog here.

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Ploughed soil in the Harris Garden

Ploughed soil in the Harris Garden

Do you work with soils? If so, we’re interested in finding out more about what you do through our photo competition. Photos can include images from the field in the UK or overseas, or work in the laboratory. We’re particularly interested in images showing people at work with soils or those that illustrate a particular ‘global issue’ like food security or climate change. Photos can been taken of any activity carried out in the University, including:

  • BSc/MSc field and lab classes showing students working with soils
  • Dissertation projects
  • PhD Research
  • Research projects

Photos will be displayed on the Soil Research Centre web pages later this year.

Prizes

Amazon Gift Vouchers will be awarded. The winner will receive £100 voucher; £50 will be awarded for second place and £25 for two highly commended images.

Eligibility

This competition is open to all students and staff at the University of Reading.

How to enter

E-mail a high resolution jpeg/tiff/pdf file containing your image to Sue Hawthorne (s.m.hawthorne@reading.ac.uk ). Please enter ‘SRC Photo competition 2013’ as the e-mail subject. Remember to include your full name, degree programme (if appropriate), e-mail, contact phone number and a short description of the photo in the e-mail message. Please also confirm in your e-mail that you (and all those shown in the photo) are happy for this photo to be displayed on the Soil Research Centre web pages. It would be a good idea to check with everyone in the picture before entering the competition.

Closing date

Entries must be submitted by 22 August 2013.

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