State of Scotland's Soil Report 2011

The most recent State of Scotland’s Soil Report was published in 2011. It collated the information available at the time from a variety of sources. It looked at the benefits soils provide, the processes that damage soils and the effects that damaged soils can have on people, the economy and the wider environment. 

The report assessed the relative importance of the processes that damage Scotland’s soils and identified the main threats as:

  • loss of organic matter;
  • changes in soil biodiversity;
  • erosion;
  • covering soils with waterproof materials.

The report concluded that the main challenges in future would be:

  • improving policy integration;
  • tackling the lack of systematic Scottish soil data;
  • understanding soil management.

These challenges have begun to be addressed in the years since the report was published. For example, a Soil Monitoring Action Plan for Scotland was published and work is ongoing on build on it. Research is being carried out on many of the areas of concern.  There is more recognition of the role soils play in other environmental problems, for example in diffuse water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The State of Scotland’s Soil Report, Scotland’s Soils website and Scotland’s Soil Monitoring Action Plan, along with more detailed findings from research, provide information and evidence on the state of Scotland’s soils. They enable access to the underlying data, start to meet the requirement for new soils data and increase awareness of the importance of soils.

You can find links to further information about the state of Scotland’s soils in the Useful Links page.

Wider impacts of the state of Scotland’s soils

The state of our soils is important for a wide range of other reasons:

Effects on climate

Scotland’s soils contain more than 3000 million tonnes of carbon - that is more than half of the UK’s soil carbon store and 60 times more than Scotland’s vegetation.  If we lost just 1% of our soil carbon as carbon dioxide, we would triple our annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Scotland’s agricultural soils are the main source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide in Scotland, contributing 79% to our total nitrous oxide emissions in 2014.

Effects on water

Around 40% of surface waterbodies at risk of not meeting water quality targets are affected by diffuse pollution from farming and forestry.

Effects on flooding

The spaces found between soil particles can store water and allow it to travel through the soil on its way to rivers.   A study in Scotland found that in winter, 18% of agricultural topsoils had very poor soil structural conditions. This could increase the risk of localised flooding, because it reduces the amount of water that could soak into the soil, meaning it is more likely to run off into rivers.

Effects on crop yields

Compacted soils have fewer spaces between the soil particles and so have less water and air available for roots. So, crops do not grow as well in compacted soil. Adding more nitrogen to the soil can sometimes mask this problem. One study in Scotland found that twice as much nitrogen was needed for the same crop yield in a compacted soil than a non-compacted soil.

Effects on habitats

Deposition of nitrogen from the air onto naturally nutrient-poor soils can change the soils over time, altering the habitat and the wildlife it supports. Over much of Scotland the amount of nitrogen being deposited is greater than the amount which peatland-forming plants can tolerate.

This page was last updated on 20 Jun 2019

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