Significant Soil Conference hosted in Belfast marking World Soil Day

Date published: 04 December 2023

Area of Expertise:

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

: Pictured (L-R) key conference stakeholders, Sharon O’Rourke, Thomas Cummins, Sara Vero, Suzanne Higgins, Saoirse Tracy, Jack Hannam and Paul Murphy.

BSSS and SSSI are collaborating with AFBI on this significant conference and the Soil Nutrient Health Scheme will be 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. Significant organisation and planning by AFBI and their sub-contractors is required to ensure the smooth rollout and execution of the scheme. All category one farmers will be given the opportunity to join the scheme.

There are over 160 delegates attending with 100 delegates opting for the SNHS Scientific fieldtrip to learn first hand about the rollout of the scheme across Northern Ireland which is being carried out on a zonal basis with all the zones to be completed by 2026.

Pieter-Jan Schӧn, Director-EMSD, AFBI commented: “AFBI is embracing this eagerly anticipated flagship event which coincides with World Soil Day celebrations across the globe. This year’s theme is Soil and Water: a source of life.”
He added:
“We were honoured to host the Patron of the British Society of Soil Science, the Duke of Gloucester HRH at AFBI Hillsborough in October in the lead up to this major event. We have pride in sharing the success and emerging themes from the world leading Soil Nutrient Health Scheme with delegates during the conference programme. The event also provides a golden opportunity to learn more about the latest developments from eminent soil scientists and to gain a wider perspective from the represented policymakers in attendance."

Soil and water provide the foundation for food production, ecosystems, and human wellbeing. Healthy soils, enriched with organic matter, play a crucial role in regulating water retention and availability. Improved soil and water management improves the land's capacity to withstand extreme climate events.

Given the increased need and pressure to address climate change and other global problems that will affect the sustainable future of our planet, World Soil Day is ever more pertinent. 95% of the food we eat comes from soil, meaning that it is essential to our health and the health of the planet. However, if our soil is not managed, maintained or used sustainably, we will not be able to produce enough food or benefit from the other functions that soil provides to society.

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. We will take a deeper dive in our conference in a keynote soil policy session. This is delivered by soil policy representatives from all UK nations and Ireland, giving an overview of key governmental activities in the monitoring and management of soils.”

By working in collaboration, the British Society of Soil Science and the Soil Science Society of Ireland, along with conference partners the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and Visit Belfast, are providing a platform to further knowledge and discourse about soils and ensure that soils stay high on the agenda.

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

“I am really looking forward to connecting with collaborators and colleagues in Belfast. The support BSSS gives to its Early Career members is something I had the privilege of experiencing during my own PhD and it is great to see it continue in Belfast in 2023. Thanks to the BSSS staff for all their help and support in organising the conference.”

The event which received financial support through the Belfast and Northern Ireland conference subvention scheme provided by Tourism Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council, is another notable scientific event in the city this year.

Notes to editors: 

AFBI’s Vision is “Scientific excellence delivering impactful and sustainable outcomes for society, economy and the natural environment”.

AFBI’s Purpose is “To deliver trusted, independent research, statutory and surveillance science and expert advice that addresses local and global challenges, informs government policy and industry decision making, and underpins a sustainable agri-food industry and the natural and marine environments”.

AFBI’s core areas:

  • Leading improvements in the agri-food industry to enhance its sustainability.
  • Protecting animal, plant and human health.
  • Enhancing the natural and marine environment.

Share this page