Monitoring soil health in Scotland by land use category – a scoping study

Monitoring soil health in a changing climate is a priority for the Scottish Government.

In 2020, CXC published a baseline report that pulled together existing research on the vulnerability of Scottish soils to climate change. The report found that, while Scotland has a significant knowledge base on soils, there was no single indicator that could be applied to all soils, climatic conditions or land uses.

This scoping study takes the 13 potential indicators the baseline report identified and considers their strategic relevance to monitoring soil health in the context of existing land use Scotland. 

Key points

  • Potential primary soil health indicators were identified for several land use categories.
  • However, it is not possible to identify a single, definitive indicator for each individual land use category and suitable indicators were not identified for several categories such as Urban or Amenity soils.
  • Seven indicators were considered extremely important for more than 50% of the categories assessed:
       o soil organic matter content
       o topsoil depth
       o erosion features
       o bulk density
       o bacteria and archaeal diversity (DNA methods)
       o fungal and nematode diversity (DNA methods)
  • Visual assessment of soils, moisture content and dissolved organic matter were considered extremely important for the fewest categories, though moisture content was considered the primary indicator for transport infrastructure.

The issue of dependency between indicators generates a layer of complexity that requires further exploration.