Soil Research Centre

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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.

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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.




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.


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.


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.


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 (


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.


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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



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