Soils are an important part of the natural heritage. They provide the foundation for habitats and species diversity and are also of intrinsic scientific interest. Soils perform a wide range of environmental and ecological services of importance to nature conservation, especially by supporting BAP priority habitats, and acting as a reservoir of biodiversity function. Because of their complex roles, the exact functioning of soils in relation to conservation management remains poorly understood. We need to better understand the role of biodiversity in maintaining or restoring semi-natural habitats and to develop conservation-relevant monitoring programmes.

Soils are often seen solely as a basis for food production. Their wider environmental role is only now being recognised through new policy developments. The European Commission is developing a 'Thematic Strategy' for soil, which seeks to make soil protection relevant to the full range of EU environmental instruments. National soil strategies in England, Scotland and Wales will promote sustainable use, including the role of conservation and monitoring activities.
The Soils Lead Co-ordination Network was established to meet the needs of the conservation agencies and of government in dealing with nature conservation related soil issues. The principal aims are to:
  • develop a better understanding of the value of soil in conservation of the nature heritage;
  • promote sustainable uses of the soil and its protection;
  • provide guidance for conservation policy development;
  • seek information on soil inventory and means of monitoring for informed comment on national issues;
  • develop a better understanding of the value of soil in conservation of the natural heritage.

Recent/ongoing Soil Lead Co-ordination Network activities include:
  • Advice on national soil strategy development in England, Wales and Scotland to promote nature conservation interests;
  • Responses to EC consultations to promote nature conservation interests, participation in EU soil strategy development;
  • Ongoing research into effects of moorland management on upland soils;
  • Ongoing development of criteria for evaluating the conservation importance of soil;
  • Outlining the economic value of soil ecological function;
  • Evaluation of semi-natural soil resource in selected areas of Scotland;
  • Preparation of SNH Commissioned Report Current issues in soils and nature conservation (in press);
  • 'Soils and nature conservation' one-day conference at Reading University, December 2003