About the UK Soil Observatory

What is it?

The UK Soil Observatory (UKSO) provides a unified starting point for accessing UK soils data and underpinning research, with the specific objective of providing these data for free where possible. Such access to fully described datasets will allow users to access information for novel research, for public and private decision making and for general interest groups.

Knowledge of soil types and properties can underpin management practices to develop sustainable agricultural production while maintaining the UK's carbon balance and a wide range of other services, e.g. flood prevention. Currently, soils data, knowledge and expertise is scattered across a wide range of institutions (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), British Geological Survey (BGS), Cranfield University National Soil Resources Institute, Rothamsted Research, the James Hutton Institute, higher education institutions etc). Our objective is to give simple, free access to these data for non-profit making use of the data and to facilitate commercial use for wealth creation. The UKSO project will acquire new data, harmonise licensing, develop access software and ensure data interoperability to improve the clarity and ease-of-use of our national and regional soil data resources.

Why has it been developed now?

Availability and widespread, general use of spatial technology in web and mobile applications allows more data to be published more quickly to more users than ever before. Coupled with current trends in government data policies and UK soil research activities, the UKSO is a logical step in harmonising our data and developing new avenues for soil research. It has been developed as:

  • a collaborative partnership between leading soil research institutions
  • a hub for free to view and free to use data services
  • a facility to engage with policy makers, the soil research community, environmental professionals and the public
  • a starting point for anyone with an interest in the future of UK soils

Who is supporting it?

This was a NERC funded project over just one year (2013–2014). The consortium partners are CEH, BGS, the James Hutton Institute, Cranfield University, Rothamsted Research, AFBI and Forest Research (please see the partners page).

What can we find in it?

A total of 115 soil data layers are available. These cover soil type (classification) and a wide range of physical, chemical and biological properties and characteristics. Each organisation has contributed data covering a mix of these topics. Additional data layers are to be added over the next few months and the consortium aim is to compile a steadily growing archive of current and legacy soil datasets. UKSO also provides access to other sources of information such as soil apps, publication links and soil observatories.

What are the main benefits of the UKSO?

NERC have spent £500 000 to develop the UKSO, and will spend about £50 000 per annum to keep it running effectively and efficiently to enable continued public access to the resources. The potential benefits of the UKSO are significant and wide-ranging, and include:

  • more transparency and accessibility of data in line with government data policy
  • less time being wasted by people either repeating or not being aware of the data already available and how to get hold of it
  • new scientific understanding of the relationship both between different soil properties and those between soils and other natural resources such as water or biodiversity, using our easy to use map viewer and map export function
  • globally greater visibility of our rich soil data holdings, which will hopefully encourage new scientific collaborations and greater investment by businesses who rely on soils, including conservation, construction, utilities, agriculture and the insurance sector
  • access to the fundamental soil data needed in the development of new tools such as soil health indicators
  • easy access to soil apps which enable us to tap into soil data gathered informally using a crowdsourcing approach
  • potential for identifying key areas to help focus future soil monitoring and risk assessment
  • better public understanding of the diversity, sensitivity, vulnerability and value of UK soils and soil research
  • greater public involvement in building a collective understanding of soil function and variability
  • enhanced opportunities for public and commercial exploitation of data archives to improve our sustainable use of soils
  • reduced operational costs for data delivery for the consortium

How can I get involved?

There are several ways you can get involved: anyone can use the ‘Contribute’ options in the UKSO map viewer, or download the mySoil app and upload observations about their soil or visit our citizen science page. If you are a researcher, ask for a link to your soil observatory platform; if you are a data holder, why not suggest regional or national soil datasets we have missed? Anyone can suggest other resources we should highlight.

If you are interested in discussing other potential collaborations please contact Patrick Bell at BGS for technical queries, or David Robinson at CEH or any of the other UKSO partners who have data or regional coverage most relevant to your interests.