Soils are the very basis of our human existence on this planet. We walk on them every day. Our homes are built upon them. The timber that we use in construction is produced from them. We enjoy eating our food which has been produced from them. We drink the fresh water that has been filtered and flows through them. The fresh air that we breath is emitted from them and our cultural artefacts from multiple generations are often buried within them.
They are as varied in nature as we are varied in our human characteristics. The vast expanse of restored peatlands bring us closer to meeting our net zero targets in our fight against climate change. They produce the waters that are the basis of our iconic Scots whisky. Our fertile brown earths deliver nutritious potatoes and vegetables to keep us healthy. The fine textured gley soils support a rich pastureland with great carbon stores with brilliant beef and dairy produce. Our podzols are grazed by our sheep, and our rankers support rare arctic alpine species, peppering our mountains with beauty. The sandy soils support some of our most iconic recreational golf courses and beach walks. They are with us from the very mountain tops to the rambling coastline; from rock to sand, they take our hand and show us a way to live.
We ignore them at our peril, they are also vulnerable and susceptible to climate change – the peatlands which have been drained are now degrading – they need urgent restoration back to their natural beauty. The sandy soils with low organic matter risk being eroded by wind and lost forever – they need to be cared for and stabilised with organic matter inputs. The gleys are at risk of being contaminated and washed away with increased flooding – more natural woodland and natural flood management is required to retain those rich and highly biodiverse gley soils.
Soils bring us much joy, from the feel of playing in our hands with fine clay from the central belt, or coarse sand from the coast, to the smell of newly dug earth, and to see the colours that they generate on paper if you paint with them. Not to mention the joy of watching your own seeds grow from a tiny seed into nutritious food that your children can eat. Or to watch the butterflies that rest on the flowers you have grown in your borders fly from one garden to another. Or the Robin who comes to visit your garden and seems to look at us to warn us to remember the earth beneath us, so they can keep coming back, year after year. Soils, like humans, are diverse and fickle, but bring us much love and joy, like Robin red breast. Ignore them at your peril.
On World Soil Day, 5th December, please give a thought to what’s under your feet. Care for it and treat it with the respect it deserves and remember the special place it has in our world and in our hearts.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Society of Soil Science.