Physical soil quality indicators for monitoring British soils
Abstract. Soil condition or quality determines its ability to deliver a range of functions that support ecosystem services, human health and wellbeing. The increasing policy imperative to implement successful soil monitoring programmes has resulted in the demand for reliable soil quality indicators (SQIs) for physical, biological and chemical soil properties. The selection of these indicators needs to ensure that they are sensitive and responsive to pressure and change, e.g. they change across space and time in relation to natural perturbations and land management practices. Using a logical sieve approach based on key policy-related soil functions, this research assessed whether physical soil properties can be used to indicate the quality of British soils in terms of their capacity to deliver ecosystem goods and services. The resultant prioritised list of physical SQIs was tested for robustness, spatial and temporal variability, and expected rate of change using statistical analysis and modelling. Seven SQIs were prioritised: soil packing density, soil water retention characteristics, aggregate stability, rate of soil erosion, depth of soil, soil structure (assessed by visual soil evaluation) and soil sealing. These all have direct relevance to current and likely future soil and environmental policy and are appropriate for implementation in soil monitoring programmes.