Significant Soil Conference hosted in Belfast marking World Soil Day

The British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and the Soil Science Society of Ireland (SSSI) held a joint Annual Conference in Belfast coinciding with Global World Soil Day, 5th December.

Dr Rachel Cassidy (AFBI) SNHS Scientific Lead – Keynote speaker
Field Trip in Co Down: Day 2 of conference programme

BSSS and SSSI collaborated with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) on this significant conference with 160 attendees over 2 days.  The event provided a platform to further knowledge and discourse about soils, including the work of EJP Soil, ensuring that soils remain high on the policy agenda. Northern Ireland’s Soil Nutrient Health Scheme (SNHS) was featured as part of the programme with Dr Rachel Cassidy (AFBI, SNHS Scientific Lead) presenting a keynote address.

The Soil Nutrient Health Scheme is a £37 million scheme funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and is the largest baseline soil sampling programme ever undertaken. Meticulous organisation and planning by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), and the sub-contractors is ongoing to ensure the smooth rollout and execution of the scheme. Notably, over 100 delegates opted for the SNHS Scientific fieldtrip to learn more first-hand about the scheme across N Ireland which is being carried out on a zonal basis with all the zones to be completed by 2026.

Pieter-Jan Schӧn, Director -Environment and Marine Sciences Division, AFBI commented: “We were proud to share the success and emerging themes from the world leading Soil Nutrient Health Scheme with delegates during the conference programme. The event provided a golden opportunity to learn more about the latest developments from eminent soil scientists and to gain a wider perspective and insights from the represented policymakers in attendance."

The timing of the conference to coincide with World Soil Day was even more pertinent given the increased need and pressure to address climate change and other global problems that will affect the sustainable future of our planet. Many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals cannot be achieved without healthy soils, sustainable land use and strong policy.

Jack Hannam, President of the British Society of Soil Science commented:

“One key tool to support sustainable soil management for people and planet is action from the ground up supported by strong and effective policy. The implementation of DAERA’s Soil Nutrient Health Scheme in Northern Ireland and the recent UK Parliamentary Soil Health Inquiry have demonstrated positive action in this space. The conference featured a keynote soil policy session, which was delivered by soil policy representatives from all the UK nations and Ireland, giving an overview of key governmental activities in the monitoring and management of soils.”

Dr David Wall (Teagasc) featured the work of EJP Soil and the European Union as part of his presentation and the development of a soil framework directive, the recommendations within which will have a major impact on Irish agriculture.  He confirmed that soil management will be at the heart of farming’s response to climate change.  “Different soil types will require differing management priorities into the future.” He added: “Soil health is of fundamental interest to soil scientists.  It is the facet of soils that determines their capacity to mitigate the impact of climate change”.  Soils’ ability to sequester carbon will be an important issue within future climate change debates.

Dr Saoirse Tracy, Chair of the Soil Science Society of Ireland also commented:

“This key event provided an excellent opportunity to connect with collaborators and colleagues while recognising the support BSSS gives to its Early Career members, which is something I had the privilege of experiencing first hand during my own PhD. Thanks to the BSSS staff for all their help and support in organising such a successful conference.”

Event organisers were grateful for the financial support received through the Belfast and Northern Ireland conference subvention scheme, provided by Tourism Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.