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Robert William Brown


Duration of study: 2018 - 2021

Project title

Innovation in commercial soil health analysis and practical on farm guidance.


Prof. Davey Jones (Bangor University), Prof. Dave Chadwick (Bangor University), Duncan Rose (NRM Laboratories) and Dr. Ashley Martin (Microbial Laboratories Australia)


Growing up in a rural community in England I developed an interest in agriculture and the natural environment, a fascination I pursued throughout my education. I studied for a BSc(Hons) Environmental Science at Bangor University, graduating in 2017. My final year research project focused on the effects of a nitrification inhibitor on nitrogen cycling in cow urine patches. Having enjoyed my experience of university and research, I decided to pursue a PhD studentship that brought together my interests of agriculture, sustainability and soil science with a real world application.  



  • Soil Microbiology
  • Sustainable Agricultural Intensification
  • Soil Quality Indexing
  • Commercial Soils Testing
  • Phospholipid Fatty Acid (PLFA) Biomarkers


About 71% of UK land is committed to agriculture and farmers are the primary managers of land. There is little data on how farming practice affects the biological capacity and function of soils. Currently the majority of existing tests for soil management focus on physical and chemical parameters and disregard biological function. However soil biology is not only intrinsically linked to the physical and chemical properties of soil, but also vital for healthy soils to function as living systems.

Through this KESS 2 funded project we aim to tailor and validate a commercial scale, high throughput assay to help Welsh farmers assess the quality and health of their soils. We will evaluate relationships between the abundance of microbial functional groups (using GCMS- Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) based tests) and the soil health status by measuring field performance across a wide range of soil types, crops and farming systems. Ultimately seeking the provision of a robust test to identify microbial functional groups associated with high fertility and productivity in the UK’s soils. As well as identifying and validating practical guidance on economic interventions for UK growers to sustainably manage their soil status.

You can find updates on my research at:

Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2) is a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. It is part funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys.