Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Davy McCracken: Scottish soils research attracts global interest

The World Congress of Soil Science recently took place in Glasgow.
The World Congress of Soil Science recently took place in Glasgow.

Given the ongoing climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, managing our soils sustainably has never been more important.

To reflect this, the World Congress of Soil Science was held this week in Glasgow and attracted more than 3,000 soil scientists from across the globe.

Soil has a huge role to play in mitigating against climate change and contains a vast reservoir of biodiversity. And how we manage soils will also be crucial in managing flood risk in the future.

For example, healthy peatlands lock up carbon while absorbing and storing more. They can also act as giant sponges, holding back water during periods of high rainfall.

However, more than 70% of Scotland’s 2 million hectares (4.94m acres) of peatlands are currently in an unhealthy condition.

Restoring these degraded peatlands by re-vegetating bare areas and peat hags and blocking ditches to re-wet the peat stops the processes causing damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

Almost three-quarters of Scotland’s peatlands are in an unhealthy condition.

Peatland restoration also slows down water flowing off the hill and improves water quality by reducing the amount of sediment in our watercourses.

And once peatlands start to function as proper wetlands again, there are major nature conservation benefits for the wide range of plants and animals relying on them.

Myself and my team at Kirkton & Auchtertyre hosted two visits to the farms by delegates attending the meeting in Glasgow.

We are a LEAF (Linking Environment & Farming) Innovation Centre and on the last day of the conference – together with colleagues from LEAF – we gave the Deputy Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Affairs and some of his officials a tour of the farms.

They were particularly keen to hear about carbon management in the uplands. And so naturally we highlighted the peatland restoration work that we conducted three and four years ago.

But we also emphasised the importance of regular soil sampling in our inbye fields and ensuring that the pH and soil nutrient status were conducive to good grass growth and an increase in soil organic matter.

We also discussed with them how we have integrated more trees and woodland onto the farms over the past 20 years and the additional benefits to our livestock – in terms of increasing shelter and shade – of doing so.

They were also very interested in our use of sensor technology, not just to aid on-farm decision making with regard to livestock health and performance but also to help track whether some of the land use changes we have already made – such as seeking to hold water back through planting one of our upland glens – are having the desired effects.

The following day, we also hosted – together with two soil scientist colleagues from SRUC Edinburgh – a visit by delegates on the first leg of their four-day post Congress tour of northern Scotland.

International visitors were keen to learn about soils work in Scotland.

The tour was led by colleagues from NatureScot and included delegates from Australia, USA and a wide variety of European countries.

They were particularly keen to hear and see for themselves how our soils contribute to the challenges, and opportunities, facing livestock farming in the uplands of Scotland.

Our discussions with them around two soil pits – illustrating the differences between our inbye fields and the majority of our upland grazing resource – hopefully helped set the context for the rest of their tour.

Over one third of the world’s land area consists of rangelands where pastoralists graze their animals on natural or semi-natural habitats.

The interest shown by all these international visitors in the research we are conducting on the farms serves to highlight that what we are doing – and why – continues to have global relevance.

Davy McCracken is professor of agricultural ecology and head of SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre at Crianlarich.

Davy McCracken: Farm policy must protect wading birds like curlew

Already a subscriber? Sign in