Soil forms the upper layer of the Earths crust and contains rock, mineral particles and dead and decaying organisms from plants and animals. It is a finite resource which has developed over thousands of years and there are various types of soils depending on its location.
More than 1000 soil types have been identified in total and in Scotland there are 25 major groups which contain similar characteristics. Soils found in Scotland are relatively young as they began developing about 10,000 years ago. In the upland areas, mostly gley soils are found as these areas a wetter and peaty, mineral soils are found in the lowland with freely draining brown earth soils and podzols are common in the drier more acidic eastern areas.
The Scottish Soil Framework (2009) states that “Soils are at the heart of all life: they cover most of the natural terrestrial world. Because of the long timescales involved in soil formation processes, and as some impacts such as development or pollution are essentially irreversible, soils should be considered as a finite, non-renewable resource.” Soils form the basis for many ecosystem services and have a number of functions including:
- Providing the foundation for agriculture, forestry and biomass production
- Regulating water flow and quality
- Storing carbon
- Providing habitats and sustaining biodiversity
- Providing a platform for buildings and roads
- Preserving cultural and archaeological heritage
Soils underpin all of the major ecosystems, including aquatic habitats and form an important ecosystem in their own right. A number of organism’s have co-evolved with the soils in their environment and damage to the structure and composition of soils can have profound implications for the entire ecosystem which is founded upon them. Cultural and archaeological heritage can also be damaged when soils are disturbed.
Although it is generally assumed that Scotland’s soils are in good health, there is a lack of data available to test whether soils are being damaged, what impact climate change may be having upon soil biodiversity and their provision of ecosystem services. At a local level, erosion, compaction, pollution/ contamination and damage to soil structure can all occur at significant levels and it is important to have mechanisms in the place to monitor and protect soils where possible.
Threats to soils in Scotland are discussed in more detail in the Scottish Soil Framework but can be roughly grouped into the following categories:
- Climate Change
- Loss of organic matter
- Acidification and eutrophication
- Loss of biodiversity
- Contamination (e.g. by heavy metals, pesticides)
- Compaction/ loss of structure
A new website - Scotlands Soils - has been launched to support the Framework. The website aims to make authoritative, scientifically robust soils information and data more accessible, both to help decision-makers and to increase public understanding of soils.
The Scottish Soil Framework has identified 13 outcomes and the LBAP aims to conserve and enhance soils wherever possible in order to contribute towards the delivery of these national outcomes. Annex A of the Framework lists Policies which are currently in place for soils protection. The LBAP will promote these policies to partners and will follow their guidelines when implementing projects within South Lanarkshire.
Whilst all soils are of concern and will be considered, the following issues are of particular significance to the LBAP: