Today marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Land Research Associates.
The company was formed by senior director Malcolm Reeve after 20 years delivering a number of strategic soil surveys across England for the former Soil Survey of England and Wales, undertaking research in soil physics and soil hydrology and, in the late 1980s, applying the acquired experience to research and consultancy associated with the working and restoration of mines and quarries.
The first 25 years of successful trading by LRA has seen several changes in project types, largely stimulated by changes in environmental legislation on soils and land use.
LRA’s first decade included a government-funded 5-year project evaluating the factors affecting the restoration of land to agriculture after mineral working. At the same time a forthcoming ban on sewage disposal to sea stimulated long-running commissions from leading water utility companies to investigate the potential for recycling treated sludge projects to agricultural and reclaimed land as a soil fertility enhancer. A series of field trials were established to support this work.
The last 15 years have seen our consultancy skills increasingly applied to characterising baseline soils and land quality and undertaking environmental impact assessments for quarrying, housing, commercial and infrastructure developments. By 2005 it was becoming evident that deterioration in soil quality through intensive farming, as well as damage to soil on construction sites, was increasing flood-risk as well as impairing other important functions that soils provide. The 2009 Defra Soil Strategy documented a new approach to soil protection and, as part of this, our unique experience was again recognised by LRA being commissioned to produce the Code of Practice for the Sustainable Use of Soils on Construction Sites. That document is slowly influencing practice such that planning permission for a development is increasingly only granted subject to a condition requiring preparation and approval of a soil management plan.
Servicing such initiatives comes at a time when the UK’s pool of experienced field soil scientists is rapidly declining. Consequently LRA has been actively training new members of staff in the required skills as well as helping our professional body deliver training courses.
The current emphasis on protecting soil functions at the same time as a national drive to build more houses and improve UK’s infrastructure (with the associated need for construction materials) will undoubtedly drive LRA forward into another successful 25 years.