Ron Wheatley

Modern composts for soil health, good crops and landscaping

Scientists in EPI have been awarded more than £200,000 in research grants, 2007-2009, to find and test new uses for urban green wastes in eco-engineering and agriculture.  

People living in towns and cities produce tons of garden waste - grass cuttings, hedge clippings, weeds, dead plants. This 'urban green waste' is a problem to get rid of because little of it can go to landfill sites, it's not much good for anything in its original state and there's too much of it to process locally in compost heaps. Yet urban green waste contains carbon and plant nutrients that are essential for the earth's life-systems. If it could be  processed into something useful, it would help reduce the carbon footprint of towns and cities (greenhouse gas emissions) and if applied to land could greatly reduce problems such as soil erosion and infertility.

GMO ERA Project

Picture of cotton being pickedIn  agricultural and natural environments, GM crops and their transgene products will come into contact with hundreds of non-target species that have important ecological functions.

The GMO ERA Project is a pioneering initiative driven by public sector scientists from many countries to develop tools to support environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The aim is to give decision makers the tools and training to help them decide what information and data are most important and appropriate for an ERA that is tailored to the GM crop and agricultural system in their country and region.

To date the project has examined case studies on Bt maize in Kenya, Bt cotton in Brazil and Bt cotton in Vietnam. The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IOBC Global, national ministries and several other funders. A steering committee for Phase I and II of the project were responsible for making key decisions.

Ecological biosafety and gene flow

Image of Laying out field experiment in the Carse of GowrieThe agroecology group at SCRI continues to make major contributions through research and extension to questions on GM crops. We examine their potential roles in cropping systems, their positive and negative environmental effects, the movement of genetic material through pollen and seed and the  means by which GM and other crops might coexist in European agriculture. We combine knowledge of biology, modelling and molecular science to answer some of the most important topical questions in ecological biosafety. All our findings are made public. Members of the group are regularly invited to advise national and international commissions in biosafety and to develop training methods for environmental risk assessment.

Plant–Soil Interactions

Soil is a vital resource to humanity and is fundamental to most of the world’s food production. Scotland is blessed with some of the most productive soils on earth, so as climate changes and water is depleted in more susceptible countries, food demand from our limited land area will increase considerably. The economic benefits could be enormous, but this will be against several threats. More marginal land with poorer soils will be brought into production. Energy prices will drive lower inputs. Unsustainable farming practices of the past will need to be reversed. Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events.

These challenges form the basis of our scientific research in the Plant-Soil Interactions Programme. A cross-disciplinary team of root biologists, ecologists, molecular biologists, physicists and soil management experts work across SCRI with an aim to maximise the positive interactions between plants and their soil environment. Our major research areas, UK and global research partners, and outreach activities are summarised below.

Environment Plant Interactions

Image of the SCRI site looking towards the River TaySCRI's environmental science research spans across disciplines to gain a holistic understanding of how plants respond to and modify environmental processes. Scottish Government commissioned research is gaining an in-depth understanding of the environment in arable farming systems and this is being used to advise on policy development in Scotland. These skills have also been applied to emerging issues relevant to the UK and Europe, including the UK’s Farm Scale Evaluations, international working groups, IPDM-based alternatives to pesicides and EU-wide studies on the ecological impacts of GM plants.

The environment and the ecology of plants and pests are our key research areas, investigated by a strong multidisciplinary team of scientists in entomology, pathology, plant sciences, vegetation ecology, phytochemistry, mathematical modelling and soil sciences. A major area of interest is integrating processes that occur above ground and in the soil. Research conducted on plant interactions with soil has extended from the understanding of sustainable arable systems to ‘green’ engineering solutions for slope stabilisation with vegetation.

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