Book Review: Soils: Scotland’s Living Landscapes

Soils: Scotland’s Living Landscapes. Scottish Natural Heritage. 1996.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) produced a series of short volumes in the Scotland’s Living Landscapes series. Profusely illustrated with good colour photographs and diagrams, these are worth obtaining as digestible works on important aspects of the upland and mountain environment.

An overview of the importance of soils for sustaining terrestrial plant life, which in turn often provides the three-dimensional biological structure that supports animals and other co-dependent plant species opens the booklet. Yet soils, and most other elements of the non-living elements of ecosystems such as rocks and landforms, are hidden and obscure to many. The non-living part of nature, known as geodiversity, enjoys less protection and less awareness than biodiversity, even when key species could not exist without particular soils.

The next few pages amplify upon the importance of soils and the geoengineering activity of our own species throughout history, which can be considered as a series of refinements in our ability to (mis)manage soil resources. Factors influencing soil generation are discussed, followed by a cross-section of a typical soil profile (think snowpit but in soil!) and a summary page of the characteristics of the four major soil types, plus alpine and subalpine soils tucked away in the bottom corner of p. 8.

A series of 10 two-page spreads, with informative, clearly-labelled, perspective drawings, present the complex interplay between relief, soil types, bedrock geology, vegetation and landforms that give rise to the distinctive landscapes of different areas in Scotland.

The final page explains the broader environmental significance of soils and contrasts the conservation of soils in other countries with the lack of specific legislation to protect soils in Scotland, which remains unchanged after almost 20 years.

Technology has moved on since the 1990s, when paper small-scale soil maps and their sheet memoirs were the only routinely available resources. The MySoil app  allows you to access soil maps and data for your location.

In summary, a useful booklet that can raise awareness of a neglected and little understood aspect of the upland and mountain environment in a style similar to Hostile Habitats.

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Posted in Book reviews, Books, Geodiversity, Soils

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