MSc Thesis Summary by Laura A Edwards: September Supervisors: Dr Nick Voulvoulis and Dr Martin Head

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1 Developing a Methodology for In situ Soil Quality Assessment for the Function of Biodiversity Support MSc Thesis Summary by Laura A Edwards: September 2008 Supervisors: Dr Nick Voulvoulis and Dr Martin Head Collaborators: The Environment Agency- Dr Tatiana Boucard Soil is one of the Earth s most precious assets; it allows people, plants and animals to live on its surface. Together with air and water, it is a fundamental and irreplaceable natural resource, and one of the essentials for life. In the European Union (EU), there is a renewed interest in the development of cross-sector, holistic environmental protection legislation to not only prevent the destruction of soils, but to protect them from poor land-use management and ensure they are used sustainably. This has taken the form of a developing European Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, which will be incorporating the forthcoming EU Soil Framework Directive. This drive for improved, integrated soils protection legislation has led to an increased activity in soil quality surveying and monitoring, and the identification and definition of key threats to soils requiring intervention. In this report, concepts of soil quality and current methods of assessment were explored, and it was found that suites of indicators are divergent across the assessment of different soil functions. Historically, productivity was seen as the principle soil management goal for the soil function of crop production, and as such most methodologies for in-situ soil quality assessment considered parameters such as soil tilth and friability before erosivity and soil macro-fauna. In-situ soil quality assessment techniques have yet to come in line with soils protection policy and programmes of education which push the support of biodiversity as a principle soil function and management aim. In this report, one such methodology of in-situ soil quality assessment is proposed, with the principle aim to provide information on the ability of the soil to support biodiversity. Indicators selected from a critical review and rationale appraisal were rated in a performance assessment that incorporated criteria relatively weighted in a multi-criteria analysis. A preliminary methodology for in-situ soil quality assessment was then assembled and rigorously tested in field conditions. Practical, guided judgements on the conditions of the soil and observations of the components were utilised, in order to allow for

2 replicability, standardisation, quality control of data and the easy management of large resultant datasets. The assessment tool was tested at Hounslow Heath, West London, since data were available on the conditions of the soil from a sampling exercise four months previous. It was found that measures of ph did not differ significantly when taken in-situ, whereas nitrate assessment methods were unsuccessful. A public trial was also conducted to assess and improve the usability of the tool. The overarching aim of this thesis was to define a proven, relevant and effective methodology for in-situ soil quality assessment, with the intention that it is utilised in the OPAL Soils national survey commencing in the spring of The following objectives were completed in order to achieve this aim. [1] Conduct a critical review of soil quality indicators currently in use in the soil science community, including the methods of their implementation, the value of data collected, and their limitations. [2] Refine a list of potential soil quality indicators to be incorporated in the national survey, and investigate methods of in-situ assessment. [3] Define a field methodology, and pilot test in a field location and with soil samples collected from varying geological settings. [4] Refine field methodology from the lessons learned from pilot trials. The methodology followed had four principle phases, and was largely desk-based for the first stage of analysis. In the background research, concepts of the definition of soil, soil health and soil quality were explored, followed in Phase I of the principle analysis by a detailed investigation in to the present state of understanding of the role in soil quality assessment played by soil quality indicators. An early version of the field guide for evaluating the various soil properties to be investigated. Academic literature as well as reports from governmental sources and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was consulted for this analysis, in order to achieve objective [1]. In particular, it was ensured that appropriate weight was given to sources with agricultural, agronomic, hydrogeological, environmental rehabilitation and remediation and ecological contexts, such that all soil interest groups and core soil functions were reflected. The scientific value of the measurement of the given parameters was discussed, relatively to each other and mutual validation, as well as relevance to policy and applications across multiple soil functions and soil management goals.

3 In Phase II of the principle analysis, methods of in-situ assessment of these indicators were then evaluated to achieve objective [2]. The results of this analysis were refined and assessed in a performance assessment against their feasibility, relevance to policy and environmental objectives, relevance to earthworm distributions, value to other indicators in the suite, and their educational value. The output of the Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) was then used to define the suite of core soil quality indicators to be incorporated in to the in-situ methodology, and the criteria for assessment and interpretation of each of these indicators were defined. In order to achieve objective [3], the results of the Phases I and II of the analysis were then put to test in field conditions, in the form of a public trial that took place at Hounslow Heath, West London, on 2nd June 2008 to complete Phase III of the thesis. This test site was selected as data on contamination distribution, vegetation, artificial ground and chemical properties were available from an assessment conducted four months prior to the public trial. The results from the Hounslow Heath trial were then supplemented with a week of individual testing of the assessment tool on site, exploiting the spectrum of environmental conditions available on the Heath and rigorously testing the application. Additionally, soil samples were collected from other geological settings in south-eastern England. In Phase IV, the lessons learned from the public and individual trials of the proposed soil quality assessment methodology were used to refine and improve the tool, resulting in a finished product and completing objective [4]. This process is summarised in a flow chart as follows; Ideally, soil quality indicators should incorporate chemical, physical and biological properties, be sensitive to changes, be easily measured, relevant over different spatial and temporal scales, and inexpensive (Schoenholtz et al., 2000). Critically, soil indicators should be measurable or observable surrogates of soil attributes that are determinants of how well a soil functions (Burger and Kelting, 1999). In reality, Representation of methodology followed in this work compromises must be made on desirable features based on cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and in-situ feasibility and these conditions consequently form the basic criteria for indicator selection (Dale and Beyeler, 2001). The Environment Agency (in press [a]) defined a list of requirements for the selection of policy-orientated soil quality indicators. These were listed as: Specific: responsive to human-induced changes to the environment Measurable: robust methods with defined precision (tolerance); simple and cost-effective to measure Achievable: signal distinguishable from noise; applicable to monitoring

4 Result-orientated: provides diagnostic or predictive information with consequential policy actions (action levels with tolerance) Time-based: provide reliable info over a pre-determined timescale The criteria that shall be considered in the refinement of a suite of soil quality indicators for the production of this assessment tool shall be defined as follows: Feasible: can be practically measured or observed in-situ with little soil science understanding; Meaningful: provide tangible information on soil quality as defined by critical soil functions relevant to the support of biodiversity, or provide information on soil status relevant to the interpretation of other indicators; Proven: indicator response to a condition of soil functioning, or the information that can be inferred from a result must be well-documented. The process of analysis is therefore replicable my multiple users and locations; Policy-relevant: indicators should aim to provide information relevant to the development and enforcement of current and future holistic soils protection policy Educational and engaging: facilitate the increase in public awareness of soil science and the consequential public engagement in effective soil management; Cost-effective: information must be obtainable at reasonable cost, and where possible, be obtained without the need for field equipment; Relevant to earthworm distribution: earthworm populations will be included in the OPAL national soils survey in 2009, therefore, known indicators relevant to the abundance and distributions of earthworm populations must be included. Criteria to be followed for selection of soil quality indicators

5 To this end the content of the field guide followed an iterative development process of design, testing and improvement so that the combination of data for each of the parameters could be optimised, particularly with relevance to these above criteria. A second working version of the guide is shown below. When interpreting the results from a soil quality assessment, it is important to consider the output in context. For example, where possible, current or intended land-use should be incorporated; such that reasonable soil management goals can be derived against which soil quality can be assessed. It is also important to consider seasonal fluctuations, anthropogenic disturbance and immediate land use and land use setting when interpreting the results from the national survey. The importance of interpreting soil quality indicators in context is stressed by many authors (for example, Baldwin, 2006), and some have suggested incorporating site-relevant data such as aspect and slope (Arshad and Martin, 2002). Additionally, when soil quality indicators are being applied to macro-scale analyses, such as a monitoring network, accurate consideration must be given to the design of the appropriate sampling strategy. For example, the Environment Agency (in press [b]) found that both targeted design networks and random stratified networks were proficient in detecting changes in soil quality under different conditions. It must also be remembered that managing the physical and chemical quality of soil and the environment is only one pillar of effective ecological conservation. Spatial heterogeneity, habitat fragmentation and connectivity are also very important to the ecological systems that soil supports (Dale and Beyeler, 2001). Soil quality protection is coming to the forefront of the EU environmental agenda, and with it an increase in activity in soils quality assessment. Historically, productivity has been the primary soil management objective, in order to achieve maximum sustainable crop yield. In more recent times, however, the collective concept of soil health and quality is evolving with a greater understanding of the other functions soils perform for society and the environment. With effective soils management comes an understanding of soil science. In this report a methodology for the in-situ assessment of soil quality relevant to the function of earthworm biodiversity was proposed, which eventually led to the creation of the soil and earthworm national field guide and survey. The final version of this was developed with the help of the Field Studies Council, and is presented below.

6 Final version of the field guide as published by OPAL and included in the national survey field pack. Some of the references used in this research. Arshad, M. A., & Martin, S. (2002). Identifying critical limits for soil quality indicators in agro-ecosystems. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 88(2), Baldwin, K. R. (2006). Soil quality considerations for organic farmers. North Carolina: North Carolina Extension Cooperative Service. Burger, J. A., & Kelting, D. L. (1999). Using soil quality indicators to assess forest stand management. Forest Ecology and Management, 122, Dale, V. H., & Beyeler, S. C. (2001). Challenges in the development and use of ecological indicators. Ecological Indicators, 1, Environment Agency. (in press [a]). Design and operation of a UK soil monitoring network No. SC060073/SR). Bristol, UK: Environment Agency. Environment Agency. (in press [b]). Road testing of trigger values for assessing site specific soil quality. phase 1 metals No. SC Bristol, UK: Environment Agency. Schoenholtz, S. H., Van Miegroet, H., & Burger, J. A. (2000). A review of chemical and physical properties as indicators of forest soil quality: Challenges and opportunities. Forest Ecology and Management, 138,

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