MS CATRIONA WILLOUGHBY
BSc (Hons), MSc
I am a PhD student at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) and the School of Biological Sciences.
Having been fascinated by soil since seeing a hand-drawn soil profile on a whiteboard in Higher Geography, I began my studies with Environmental Geography at Stirling University. During my undergraduate degree I took modules in geology, soil quality and protection, paleoecology and geoarcheology, but was most fascinated by the interplay between soils, plants, ecology and society that was explored in my food security classes. I was fortunate enough to be selected for an international exchange programme and studied at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which offered a fascinating opportunity to see the real-life implications of permafrost changes.
I continued my tour of Scottish educational institutions by taking an MSc in Soils and Sustainability at Edinburgh University and Scotland's Rural College, which helped me gain a better understanding of agriculture, soil ecology and environmental geochemistry. I completed a project on organic-amendment driven phytoremediation of contaminated spoil heaps.
After my MSc I used the statistical and data processing skills I had inadvertently gained by working as a civil servant processing financial data, but decided that applying them to soil is much more fun. I applied for the PhD project that I am currently working on, and the rest is history.
As a geographer by background I have been trained to think holistically and apply interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues, which I have carried with me through my subsequent studies and career. I am interested in a broad spectrum of research across the fields of soil science and agriculture, but the work I undertake as part of my PhD largely focusses on the long term sustainability of rotational management strategies.
BSc (Hons) Environmental Geography, Stirling University (2017)
MSc Soils and Sustainability, Scotland's Rural College and Edinburgh University (2018)
I am an early careers member of the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) and the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB)
My research interests are broadly in the field of agriculture. Through working on my PhD I am also interested in the uses and applications of long term field trials, their limitations and potential insights that we can gain from them and their associated historical datasets.
Biological and Environmental Sciences
I have explored and developed straightforward nutrient budgeting methodologies that assess the nutrient use efficiency of food delivery for human consumption at a field and farm scale, which I have applied to a broad range rotational farming systems with contrasting nutrient delivery forms in place. These range from fertilizer-receiving rotations with no leys and additions of organic amendments, to legume-supported rotations with long ley periods and low inputs. Part of this research considers the agronomical and nutrient management trade-offs at play between the inclusion of livestock, their manures and fodder crops within rotation systems, contrasted with the use of plant-derived protein sources such as grain legumes, as well as green manures.
More recent work includes undertaking a comprehensive assessment of soil health across contrasting sites, soil types and management types. Soil health indicators chosen encompassed both detailed analytical methods and the field testing more commonly recommended to farmers, and allowed the soil biological community, nutrient content and physical structure to be considered. As my work frequently uses long term field trial datasets describing complex ecological systems, I have cultivated an interest in the developing my data management and statistical skills that may be applied to such systems.
I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to present my research at several conferences over the course of my PhD, including the at the European Society of Agronomy Conference in 2020, the Association of Applied Biologists Legumes Conference in 2021 and the British Society of Soil Science Early Careers Conference in 2021.
I presented a short lecture on the opportunities presented by the inclusion of legumes to farming systems in the Scottish Government's Climate Ambition Zone at COP26.
In 2022, I participated in Farmers Weekly's "The Future of Food & Agriculture" stand at New Scientist Live in Manchester.
My project is a collaboration between Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and the University of Aberdeen School of Biological Sciences.
Funding and Grants
I was a recipient of the British Society of Soil Science Early Careers Travel Grant in 2022, which contributed towards my attendance at the World Congress of Soil Science 2022.