NERC funded PhDs Studentships Available – Apply by 2nd February 2015


Applications are open for the 2015 NERC SCENARIO Doctoral Training Programme PhD studentships, led by University of Reading.

Projects available on soil and soil-related research are:

Applications close 2nd February 2015.  For more information on projects and how to apply, please contact the lead supervisor of the project you are interested in.

2014 Soil Photo Competition Winners

We are pleased to announce the winners of 2014 Photo Competition.

Standard of entries was very high this year.  Thank you to all who took part.

Happy World Soils Day!


First Prize: Oliver Crowley, PhD Student

Sampling for bulk density in the field where soils under three intensities of management were subjected to a summer drought event


Second Prize: Leanne Roche, PhD Student

This picture shows the typical soil type used for spring malting barley in the south east of Ireland. Limited nitrogen is allowed under the nitrates directive and it’s questionable whether it is enough to produce good yields with good quality grain.


Highly Commended: Mike Bell, PhD Student

Burying litter bags on Dartmoor as part of an experiment looking at the climate dependency of plant litter decomposition in blanket peat. There is concern that climate change could disrupt the small imbalance between net primary productivity and decomposition which has resulted in these systems slowly accumulating large stores of carbon over the last few millennia.


Highly Commended: Josh Giulianotti, MSc Student

The photo was taken during the field course trip to Devon Great Consols in Dartmoor National Park.
The photo shows the former arsenic and copper mine processing area, taken from the mine tailings.  Note the slow succession of plant growth due to extremely high soil arsenic concentrations.


Commended: Oliver Crowley, PhD Student

Soils from different intensity of land use were subjected to climate change scenarios for the UK in order to investigate functional stability to stress.


Commended: Dr Rob Jackson, Associate Professor

Don’t fall in: Sampling extremophiles from soil and water in an Icelandic geothermal pool.


Reading takes part in national tree planting event to mark the start of International Year of Soils 2015

Today Dr Tom Sizmur and Dr Martin Lukac  planted Rowan trees at Badgemore Primary School in Henley-on-Thames and St Teresas Catholic Primary School in Wokingham.

The trees were supplied by the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and the planting is part of a national event to mark Worlds Soils Day and the launch of the International Year of Soils in 2015

BSSS is looking to raise awareness of the importance of soils, celebrate our soils, catalyse initiatives and provide a modern perspective of soil science as well as marking the start of the road to the 2022 World Congress of Soil Science which the UK will be hosting in Glasgow in August 2022.


Photo of Tom with members of Laurel class and their teacher Hannah Rowlinson at Badgemore Primary School.

International meeting on belowground biodiversity (BioLink) at Reading this week

The first annual meeting of the COST Action FP1305 Biolink will take place from 4th until 7th November 2014 at the University of Reading, organised by Dr Martin Lukac.  Final programme available here.

One of the aims of the Action is to establish a vibrant community of scientists interested in relating the many forms of belowground biodiversity found in European forests and tree plantations to the function of the whole ecosystem. The Action is organised around the following working Groups:

WG 1 Linking belowground biodiversity to ecosystem function.

WG 2 Microbial and faunal functional biodiversity in belowground food-webs.

WG 3 Belowground biodiversity in plantations and tree crops.

WG 4 Functional diversity in forest models.

The aim of the meeting is to set the Action in motion: to establish a partnerships and collaborations, to identify new avenues of research, to help starting researchers find contacts, identify and target suitable research funding streams and, most of all, discuss an interesting topic with a group of friends! To help us achieve all these goals, we have put together a two-day programme which includes exciting speakers, a brainstorming session, poster session where starting researchers will present their work.

Likely outputs (of the Action):

  • A summary of current knowledge of belowground biodiversity in forest ecosystems across a management intensity gradient. The Action will assess the role of soil biodiversity as a determinant of ecosystem stability and publish in scientific publications.
  • Integration of new theoretical and technological advances in biodiversity research in the forestecosystem research community. Emerging analytical and modelling approaches will be showcased by inviting leading speakers
  • Provision of a focal point for the dissemination of information about forest biodiversity and ecosystem function.
  • Collation and exchange of recent findings from experimental and observational studies of belowground biodiversity in perennial tree crops and simplified ecosystems. These will be contrasted to those from forest ecosystems.
  • Comparison of experimental and model results from natural forests and tree crops concerning effects on soil biodiversity. Further inclusion of know-how from related modelling research (aquatic food-web modelling, agricultural soil modelling) will boost the development of new forest ecosystem modelling concepts to include soil functional diversity in a more mechanistic way.
  • Identification of new cross-disciplinary research areas in a series of review and opinion publications in peer-reviewed journals.


Climate change, carbon and drinking water


A new paper published in Water Research links the response of peat and plant litter to climate change and the effect this will have on drinking water treatment. The paper highlights the sensitivity of upland peat catchments’ carbon balance both to changes in dominant vegetation and temperature and rainfall patterns. As many upland catchments are used for drinking water provision this has implications for the ability of treatment works to meet drinking water standards.

The research was led by Jonny Ritson (Imperial) as part of a collaboration between the Soil Research Centre (Mike Bell, Dr Joanna Clark, Prof Anne Verhoef) and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College as well as industrial partners South West Water and Welsh Water.

New BBSRC-NERC project on phosphorus cycling in the soil-microbe-plant continuum of agri-ecosystems

Dr John Hammond’s team will use a variety of approaches to better understand the role plants and microbes living in the rhizosphere play in making phosphorus available for plant growth, and how these roles change during plant development under field and laboratory conditions.  This research is funded under the BBSRC-NERC GFS-SARISA programme.

The microbes in the rhizosphere rely on carbon from the plant for growth. Under laboratory conditions the team will study plants that release different amounts of carbon into the rhizosphere and investigate the effects on the rhizosphere microbial community and the amount of phosphorus available for plant growth.

New opportunities for breeding crops that are more efficient at acquiring phosphorus may be possible, together with potential biotechnological applications for microbes and enzymes.

A Post-Doctoral Research Assistant post associated with this project is available, closing date 7th November 2014.

Winner of the 2014 BSc Dissertation Prize

Congratulations to Ben Jones, winner of the 2014 BSc Dissertation Prize for his project on “the effect of leaf litter manipulation on forest CO2 flux in a temperate deciduous oak woodland” (supervised by Dr. Martin Lukac and Dr Joanna Clark).
Ben’s project was carried out in collaboration with Forest Research, Alice Holt, Surrey, continuing on from his professional year placement there.  Ben graduated in July 2014 with BSc in Environmental Science with Professional Experience.  The BSSS award was presented by Dr Steve Robinson.
Excellent work Ben, very well done!  Congratulations to all our students for their excellent dissertation research.

BioLink: Below-ground biodiversity and ecosystem function in European Forests, 4th-7th November 2014, Reading

Martin Lukac will lead a new EU COST Action on “Linking below-ground biodiversity and ecosystem function in European forests (BioLink)”.  

The first meeting will be in Reading from 4th-7th November 21014, and aims to establish a vibrant community of scientists interested in the role of soil biodiversity in ecosystem service provision, particularly in tree dominated systems. PhD students and early stage researchers who wish to establish contacts with experts throughout Europe are welcome to submit a poster abstract. Funding is available to support students.

Please get in touch with Martin if you are interested in attending (

Soil Research Centre Photo Competition 2013

The Soil Research Centre is pleased to announced the winners of the 2013 SRC Photo Competition:

First Prize

Photo Title: Cambisol with erosion gully due to improper management and an increased rainfall.  (Olive grove in Mediterranean area)

Author: Maria Luisa Fernandez  (PhD in Environmental Science)

Second Prize

Photo Title: Collecting soil samples for analysis of phytoliths, charcoal and stable carbon isotopes, to learn more about the environmental impact of pre-Colombian Amazon cultures.

Author: Dr Frank Mayle  (Reader in Ecosystems Ecology)


Highly Commended

Photo Title: Removing a soil block sample from an archaeological hearth in Iraqi Kurdistan for export to the University of Reading for microscopic analysis of stratified soil deposits.

Author: Sarah Elliott (PhD Archaeology)

Highly Commended 1

Photo Title: Soil sampling on a small-scale mining site in the Western Region of Ghana.  Taken on fieldwork which aims to look at the impact of mining on forest carbon stocks.  Some miners couldn’t understand why I wanted soil, but wasn’t interested in gold!

Author: Mark Hirons (PhD in Agriculture)

Highly Commended 2

The winning pictures are also on display at the SRC website:

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who participated!

SRC will soon invite submissions for the 2014 Photo Competition.


British Society of Soil Science Award Winners 2013

Winner of the BSc Disseration Competition

The winner of the Best BSc Dissertation in Soil Science was Ruth Harris.


Ruth was presented with the award on the 5th of July (Summer Graduation 2013) by Dr Steve Robinson, Head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Science.

The award recognises the exceptional dedication and commitment Ruth has put into her dissertation, entitled: ‘What are the effects of soil stripping with respect to heathland regeneration and what implication does this have for habitat management?’ Ruth has been an outstanding student who has just graduated from Reading with a First Class Degree in Environmental Science.

Congratulations to Ruth Harris and thanks to everyone who participated!

Winner of the MSC Dissertation Competition

The winner of this award will be announced in December.

Sponsored by the British Society of Soil Science