Friday, 26 July 2013

The benefits of a living soil

Water running off the surface of the soil when it rains is not going to be available to crops in drier times.  It also takes with it soil and nutrients that would be better left in the field and cause problems once they get into streams and rivers. 

We know from our previous research that both woodland and pasture have less impct on water quality than does arable land.  This may be linked to the biology of soils in the three land use types.  Cranfield University students, Michael Weeks and David Stella have looked at earthworm biomass, microbial biomass and soil organic matter across the three land uses in our 'School Farm' demonstration catchment.  Their results are presented below and clearly show that each of these measures is lowest for arable land. 
Increasing earthworm numbers, microbial biomass and organic matter is likely to improve the capacity of the cropped area to take up water when it rains, but will also improve the functioning of the soil to the benefit of the crops we are growing for food.  We are currently exploring the means of achieving this by reducing tillage intensity and retaining crop residue.
Earthworm biomass, microbial biomass and organic carbon in arable, pasture and woodland soils in the School Farm catchment. I have converted the three measures to a common index in order to get them all on the same graph.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Strengthening links with the University of Nottingham

One of the great strengths of the Allerton Project is that our independence allows us to work with universities and other research organisations across the country.  This collaborative approach has served us well over the years, bringing a wide range of expertise to the equally wide range of rural issues we explore at and around Loddington.

Our links with the University of Nottingham are particularly strong as it is one of the closest universities to us, and has an excellent Geography Department and agricultural campus at Sutton Bonington.  For several years we have co-supervised PhD, MSc and undergrad students, delivered lectures on campus, and hosted field trips to Loddington and the nearby sites on which we work.  Student projects have included a social science study of farmers' 'environmental learning careers' through their involvement in Stewardship schemes, a landscape scale bird community study, and an assessment of infiltration rates associated with different land uses.  Topics covered in lectures include catchment management, land use and biodiversity, and West African agro-ecology.

It is a real privilege recently to have been made an Honorary Professor with the university and I look forward to building on our existing links to our mutual benefit.

Nottingham University student, Grant Thompson identifying invertebrates in the lab at Loddington as part of his work that will provide us with new information on the ecology of the farm, and him with an MSc.  Co-supervision between the university and ourselves combines high academic standards with practical experience and applied results.