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First step made towards a soil health indicator

News Item 2023

As part of our work on integrating nature into decisions, and advising on policy to progress nature recovery, we have recently published a proof-of-concept study (JNCC Report 737: Towards Indicators of Soil Health) paving the way for the development of an indicator framework of soil health for England.

Healthy soil is important for delivering many of the ecosystem services that we rely on, from climate and water regulation, to the production of food. Being able to assess soil health is therefore crucial not only in developing our understanding of the state of our soils, but also our understanding of how to protect or enhance the services soils provide.

Soil health is also relevant across a wide range of policy areas and is directly referenced in many recent high-profile policy documents, including the Environmental Improvement Plan (which commits to “establish a soil health indicator under the 25 Year Environment Plan Outcome Indicator Framework”), The State of the Environment: Soil report, the Net Zero Strategy, and the second State of Natural Resources Report.

The report, produced by JNCC and Cranfield University, brings  together information from across the scientific literature, lessons learnt from previous projects that have developed indicators for complex systems, and innovative modelling techniques, as well as outlining the work undertaken towards developing indicators of soil health. This is designed to be a first step in a collaborative and iterative process that will draw on experts to improve and build on the indicators over time.

The approach developed involves a series of steps, including: identifying appropriate soil properties; developing ecological models to map out the relationships between these soil properties and the ecosystems services of interest; inputting data to transform these conceptual models into statistical models; and creating a dashboard to visualise results.

The study also recommends several steps to move from the concept towards a functional, reliable, and meaningful set of indicators. All components of the proof of concept can be upgraded as knowledge improves. Additional information from fieldwork or local knowledge will ultimately be included as a crucial part of the process. The next stage of work will look to do so, including further review of the literature and convening an expert panel to provide input. If you are interested in being involved as part of this process, please get in contact.

Find out more in JNCC Report 737: Towards Indicators of Soil Health

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