5 Questions to a soil scientist
Address: Department of Soil Science, University of Reading, Reading, RG6 6DW, United Kingdom
Position: Professor of Soil Science (since 2003)
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
When I was an undergraduate at Bristol I became fascinated with soils, initially in how they were distributed in the landscape, but then on how water and energy flowed through soils. Within my degree I chose, whenever possible, courses which involved soil science or elements of soil science, and endeavoured to undertake all my project work on soils and soil related subjects. My undergraduate project was on soil patterns in an area of Derbyshire, when I was first introduced into the often complex nature of soil variability.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
My most influential teacher was probably Len Curtis, who as well as being a teacher was also at some time in his life a soil surveyor. It was Len Curtis who first introduced me to soils in the field as an undergraduate and who encouraged me to seek to explore and understand soil patterns. In my undergraduate year I was probably the only individual who found this soil and landscape relationship so fascinating and enjoyed the support and enthusiasm provided by Len Curtis.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
Throughout my professional life I have not ceased to be fascinated by the diversity of soils and the diversity which occurs within an individual soil. I have been fortunate to observe soils in many environments where the nature of the patterns and diversity are often different. It is seeking to understand this diversity and where appropriate manage the soils taking account of this diversity, which is a major challenge which I still enjoy.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
I approach this in two broad areas. The first relates to my own fascination with the diversity of soils in the landscape and the differences and similarities which occur in different environmental settings. The second, and this has become more focused with my involvement in seeking to develop soil protection strategies, is the often critical position in the environmental context, the role of soils at the interface of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. In the development of sustainable land management we must be aware of this role.
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
In my opinion Soil Science has 'turned the corner' in recent years. In the final quarter of the 20th century there appeared to be a decline in interest in the soil, particularly in the context of agricultural production. In the last few years there has been increased awareness of the need to understand and manage soil if sustainable agricultural production is to be achieved. Coupled to this re-awakening of the role of soil in the context of food production, there is also an increasing recognition that soils are often critical in the broader environmental context and it is therefore imperative that the nature and behaviour of soils are understood. This increased awareness of the key roles played by soils has been recognized in the development of soil protection strategies.