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Sustainable soils and land use

Soils are a critical part of our life support system

How we manage our land and our soil is vital to the sustainability of societies, economies and our environment. Soils provide many functions across the food-water-energy-environment nexus: they provide 99.7% of our food; they are the largest store of organic carbon in the earth system and as such are important to climate change; and they regulate water quality and quantity, mitigating the risk of floods, droughts and pollution.

Soils are fragile

Soil forms slowly, effectively making this a finite resource – and one which is under increasing threat from intensification and competing land uses for agriculture, forestry, and urbanisation, desertification and climate change. Mismanagement of soils can lead to soil loss if erosion rates outstrip formation, loss of fertility, and loss of organic matter which is vital for storing water and carbon and maintaining soil structure. Soil degradation acts as a vicious cycle: as the area of productive and habitable land is reduced by degradation, pressures are increased on the remaining land, increasing the likelihood of degradation.

Sustainable soils are the foundation for sustainable business

Businesses play a key role in sustainable soil and land management. Many businesses directly rely on soil. The primary sectors of agriculture and forestry rely on soil to support plant growth and livestock production, and it follows that manufacturers and retailers that use these raw materials are also dependent on soil. Hence, all these business sectors either directly influence soil sustainability through management of soil in agriculture or have indirect influences through their supply chains. Other industries that also influence and benefit from good soil management include the waste water sector and insurance companies that hedge the risks associated with floods and crop failures.

The Sustainable Soils and Land-Use theme at the Pentland Centre is focused on:

  • improving our understanding of how land-use and management, climate and altered nutrient cycles influence the sustainability of our soils and their capability to provide us with food, water and carbon storage, and support our natural ecosystems
  • working with businesses to translate this understanding and co-design sustainable solutions

Jessica Davies leads this research theme at the Pentland Centre, which draws together the rich soil and water science expertise across Lancaster Environment Centre and the world-class business understanding of LUMS to work towards a more sustainable future.