Soil is the largest source of biodiversity on Earth. Many thousands of different species of organisms live in a small handful of soil. We can see the large soil organisms, for example worms, beetles, or woodlice. However, the vast majority of soil life is microscopic, yet fulfils an enormously important role in the soil. It ensures that crop residues are digested and nutrients are made available to plants again. In addition, the soil life ensures a crumbly, airy soil structure. Due to mutual competition and predation, certain soil organisms can also contribute to a reduction in pest pressures.
Stimulating soil biodiversity
Together with growers, the Louis Bolk Institute is investigating how biodiversity in agricultural soils can be protected and improved. For example, by using (good quality) organic manure and compost, but also by promoting above-ground biodiversity. Cover crops and adjustments to the crop rotation also have a strong relationship with soil biodiversity. In addition, resting the soil is important. Fixed tramlines, reduced tillage, and permanent field margins can contribute to this.
More and more farmers are realising that soil life is an essential building block of their business. And also realise that when they let the soil life work for them, they can switch back a notch themselves. We collaborate with farmers in our projects. Because soil life is not only important for production on the farm itself, but also provides other (ecosystem) services, we are also investigating how we can reward farmers for soil management. Social services such as climate mitigation, water storage, and biodiversity restoration are provided through living soils. By rewarding farmers for these services, a win-win is created for the farmer, soil life, and society.
Measuring soil biodiversity is challenging, and measurements are often difficult to interpret. At the Louis Bolk Institute, we have a lot of experience in mapping soil life. In addition to interpreting laboratory analyses, we learn a substantial amount from looking at the soil. We do this with the help of a visual soil scan (profile pit). For example, we assess the soil structure, rooting, disturbing layers, and soil life. A number of examples are described in more detail below.
Biodiversity in the water holding project
Within the water holding project of Walcheren we work together with agricultural entrepreneurs on biodiversity issues as well as sustainable water management. The Louis Bolk Institute monitors soil and biodiversity management in the area. In addition, the contribution of soil quality and biodiversity to the sustainable design of the regional landscape is outlined. The effects of the water measures on soil quality are examined and the focus is placed on the action perspective of the entrepreneurs to improve soil quality. In addition, biodiversity measures and/or nature-inclusive management are implemented at demonstration level that have the potential for a larger-scale roll-out. This way, the contribution of soil quality and biodiversity to the sustainable functioning of water management in the region can be increased.
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Below are a few more examples of projects.