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A review of the impacts of degradation threats on soil properties in the UK

Gregory, A.S.; Ritz, Karl; McGrath, S.P.; Quinton, J.N.; Goulding, K.W.T.; Jones, R.J.A.; Harris, J.A.; Bol, R.; Wallace, P.; Pilgrim, E.S.; Whitmore, A.P.

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A.S. Gregory

Karl Ritz

S.P. McGrath

J.N. Quinton

K.W.T. Goulding

R.J.A. Jones

J.A. Harris

R. Bol

P. Wallace

E.S. Pilgrim

A.P. Whitmore


National governments are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of their soil resources and are shaping strategies accordingly. Implicit in any such strategy is that degradation threats and their potential effect on important soil properties and functions are defined and understood. In this paper, we aimed to review the principal degradation threats on important soil properties in the UK, seeking quantitative data where possible. Soil erosion results in the removal of important topsoil and, with it, nutrients, C and porosity. A decline in soil organic matter principally affects soil biological and microbiological properties, but also impacts on soil physical properties because of the link with soil structure. Soil contamination affects soil chemical properties, affecting nutrient availability and degrading microbial properties, whilst soil compaction degrades the soil pore network. Soil sealing removes the link between the soil and most of the ‘spheres’, significantly affecting hydrological and microbial functions, and soils on re-developed brownfield sites are typically degraded in most soil properties. Having synthesized the literature on the impact on soil properties, we discuss potential subsequent impacts on the important soil functions, including food and fibre production, storage of water and C, support for biodiversity, and protection of cultural and archaeological heritage. Looking forward, we suggest a twin approach of field-based monitoring supported by controlled laboratory experimentation to improve our mechanistic understanding of soils. This would enable us to better predict future impacts of degradation processes, including climate change, on soil properties and functions so that we may manage soil resources sustainably.


Gregory, A., Ritz, K., McGrath, S., Quinton, J., Goulding, K., Jones, R., …Whitmore, A. (in press). A review of the impacts of degradation threats on soil properties in the UK. Soil Use and Management, 31(S1),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 31, 2015
Online Publication Date Oct 12, 2015
Deposit Date Jul 15, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jul 15, 2016
Journal Soil Use and Mangement
Print ISSN 0266-0032
Electronic ISSN 1475-2743
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 31
Issue S1
Keywords Soil erosion; soil organic matter; soil contamination; soil compaction; soil functions; climate change
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Gregory, A. S., Ritz, K., McGrath, S. P., Quinton, J. N., Goulding, K. W. T., Jones, R. J. A., Harris, J. A., Bol, R., Wallace, P., Pilgrim, E. S. and Whitmore, A. P. (2015), A review of the impacts of degradation threats on soil properties in the UK. Soil Use and Management, 31: 1–15, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Contract Date Jul 15, 2016


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