The British Society of Soil Science’s Annual Conference 2021, sponsored by Arcadis, considered soil health from five different perspectives, providing insight into a prominent topic across professional and academic practice.
Professor Jim Harris presented “A New Look at Soil Health”. Soil health is a phrase which was first used in print in the early 20th Century but was widely adopted by the scientific community in the 1990’s as a portmanteau term to capture and explain the effects of differing land use and management approaches which were either beneficial or degradative to a number of soil characteristics. It has proved a powerful tool in conveying to a lay audience, and is found in National and International fora, programmes, agreements and long-term plans. However, many public bodies turned to the scientific community which coined the term with calls for the measurement of “soil health” – preferably as single number for ease of use and cost of implementation of monitoring.
Professor Jim Harris believes we need to move from solely measuring characteristics directly, to measures of soil system organisation which are dependent on the biology shaped by physico-chemical factors and their interactions and interdependencies, capturing complexity, function and emergent properties, and ask the question “are soils really a system”?