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CEnv Blog | Recapping the World Congress of Soil Science 2022 – Crossing Boundaries, Changing Society

By Dr Bruce Lascelles CEnv

President, British Society of Soil Science | Arcadis UK Director, Sustainable Land Management

The World Congress of Soil Science takes place every 4 years – it is the international event which brings the global soils community together. 

Whether the event would happen or not was at times in doubt due to the pandemic but reflecting back on the Congress it was an absolute success.  It put soils centre stage and clearly showcased the link between soils, land use, climate change, biodiversity, and societal well-being.

A full day was devoted to discussions on policy relating to soils – we lack strong policy and legislation in this area and something needs to change to put soils on a par with how air quality, water and biodiversity are protected. We had an excellent round table discussion, which included the Australian National Advocate for Soil Health, the Chief Scientific Advisor in Scotland, the IPCC, and Microsoft, looking at the question of whether we can make soil, and the attention paid to soil, a national priority, globally, within the context of the worlds environmental, social and economic crises.

Beech woodland soil root mass. Copyright Bruce Lascelles

Advocacy, at all levels, based on sound evidence and innovative implementation will be critical going forward as will being able to demonstrate a return on investment from land management change and interventions. We need to see the integrated picture and get this into the minds of people.  Bringing digital innovation into the same discussion was an eye opener – how others from outside the technical environmental specialisms see the problems and potential solutions, very often based on a re-purposing of existing technologies.

So much was achieved in the week, but it is also only the start.  We also can’t assume we have a caring audience; increasing the understanding of soils and the role they can play in our future has to go hand in hand with sorting out development paths, inequality, poverty – what was achieved and highlighted is part of the solution but can so easily get buried by the weight of societal suffering.  And it is important to recognise that this applies to all environmental disciplines.  We have to truly come together in multidisciplinary teams who understand the inter- and cross-disciplinarity of the work needed to generate and implement solutions and who can work seamlessly across the team and also with a wider pool of partners, not least those who bring technological innovation which can be scaled and delivered at truly affordable prices.

A cultivated soil. Copyright Bruce Lascelles

And then we need to communicate this to as wide an audience as possible, from policy makers and practitioners to the public.  The Congress included a wide arts programme, educational and outreach activities, and it is hoped that this is one area we hope to focus legacy activity around. Working with the arts community opened up conversations with those who use soil and the natural world to communicate the critical links between nature and our sustainable future (including our historical relationship with the environment) and to find ways to help and support communities through, for example, community or therapy gardens.

The message is clear that this is the decisive decade.  Environmental professionals who have deep and current technical and scientific understanding, who can see the big picture across the wider environmental landscape and who can engage and speak the same language as those who bring digital, social, economic, financial, communication etc. skills are absolutely central to the solutions we need.  We don’t need to be all these things as individuals, but we need to be in, and understand our place within, teams which can deliver across all these aspects.


– Dr Bruce Lascelles CEnv

President, British Society of Soil Science | Arcadis UK Director, Sustainable Land Management

Bruce is registered as a Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) via his membership of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).

Find out more via the links below.

CIEEM British Society of Soil Science Arcadis UK Become a CEnv via CIEEM SocEnv Soils and Stones Project