25 June 2015 11:43

Scientists have been awarded £1.6m to investigate how we can ensure that our soil is resilient to environmental change.

The earth’s soil is being put under increasing pressure and there is an urgent need to ensure that soils found across different landscapes continue to deliver vital resources for humans.

From the food we eat to the air we breathe and the water we drink, soil has an important role to play.

The study will see the team investigate how soils in different ecosystems – ranging from intensive agriculture through to extensive, semi-natural systems – support ecosystem services, and to what extent they are resilient to environmental pressures from climate change and human activity.

Professor Nick Ostle from Lancaster University and a team of researchers at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Dr Rob Griffiths, Dr Jeanette Whitaker & Dr Niall McNamara), Rothamsted Research and Imperial College London, have been awarded the grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Professor Nick Ostle said: "Soils underpin food security and have a crucial influence on greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient and energy cycles, and the flow and quality of our waters. But, these functions are vulnerable to over-exploitation and climate change. This research will deliver new science to improve understanding that will contribute to future soil security."

The project is part of a UK consortium ‘U-Grass’, funded under NERC’s Soil Security Thematic programme.

Using novel genetic and isotope techniques, the team will examine the ecological resilience of plant-soil biodiversity, which underpin UK food production.

Professor Nick Ostle says explained: “This NERC funded research is an important step towards making soil more resistant to inevitable changes needed to increase food security in a changing climate. We also want new evidence to inform policy makers as to how best to protect UK soils and the important goods and services they provide.”

Researchers will maintain close links with interested and industry partners to build and share knowledge with international impact.