Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Function in Soil

NERC Soil Biodiversity Programme

The NERC 'Soil Biodiversity Programme' was an integrated programme of research on the biological diversity of soil biota and the functional roles played by soil organisms in key ecological processes. The programme ran from 1997 - 2004. The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) invested £5.85m in the programme, which supported 30 research projects and contracts, involving around 120 scientists in universities and NERC centres and surveys. Most of the research focussed on an experimental site established at Sourhope in the Scottish Borders.

The programme is no longer active but you can learn about it here, and access outputs and datasets.

'The Sourhope site is probably the best-known hectare of soil in the world'

The Soil Biodiversity Programme aimed to achieve simultaneously:

  • an understanding of biological diversity of the soil biota (embracing all abundant taxa, not just those normally considered tractable),
  • and the functional roles played by soil organisms in key ecological processes.

£5.85 million was allocated by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for research and necessary support services. The Programme was closely integrated, to give insights of wider generality than the chosen ecosystem, an upland grassland at Sourhope, near Kelso, Scotland.  Research was funded in two main phases, the first starting in 1998.  The second phase ran from 2001 - 2005.

Project co-ordination:

  • Chairman of the Steering Committee was Prof. Michael Usher, honorary position at University of Stirling
  • Programme Management was the responsibility of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Lancaster)
  • Data Management was led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (Lancaster)
  • Site Managment was the responsibility of the James Hutton Institute (formerly Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, MLURI).

Point of contact:  

Dr Andrew Sier, Former Programme Manager, Soil Biodiversity Programme, UKCEH Lancaster, Lancaster Environment Centre, Library Avenue, Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4AP, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1524 595840 | E-mail


Location of the Sourhope research site