Soils are not all the same. Indeed, some experts argue that soil diversity is as pronounced as that which distinguishes different plant and animal species – and should be understood as such. To date, 747 different soil types have been identified across England and Wales, with varying chemical, biological and physical properties, resiliencies, capabilities and vulnerabilities.
Soil maps are an attempt to organise and represent the distribution of these different types/groups across the Earth’s surface. These maps and the data that underpin them provide a key to understanding the complexities around land use and soil-related problems, such as nutrient and pesticide leaching, run-off to rivers and flooding. By the same token, these maps hold the key to the ‘solutions’, such as crop, tree and habitat suitabilities, groundwater recharge, foundation conditions and water and carbon storage.
In August 2021, Defra commissioned the SSA to help explore how England’s soil maps can better support the delivery of environmental policies and national commitments. We hosted a stakeholder workshop on 21st October attended by policy makers, experts and practitioners to discuss the use of the existing soil data and maps as well as the potential for developing and updating the maps through new technologies such as earth observation.
The current SSA-Defra project could form the basis for a full review of the soil maps of England. At the SSA, we hope this will be the first step towards enabling England’s soil maps resource to fully support the journey towards sustainably managed soils throughout the country.