Understanding the current state and condition of Australian soils requires an appreciation of their diversity and their ability to support different forms of land use. It also requires an appreciation of human impacts, not only in recent years and decades, but also on longer timescales of centuries and millennia. This is because the impact of land-use change is long-lasting, soil formation is very slow, and remediation can take decades. Most states and territories now explicitly include a section on soil in their own SoE and NRM report cards. However, there is currently no standard set of indicators for monitoring soil condition, and each jurisdiction uses its own set. The ratings, symbols and reporting regions used are not standardised either between states and territories or with the Australian Government.
The environmental baseline adopted throughout much of SoE 2011 was the international pre–industrial revolution baseline (1750). However, for soil, this is problematic because there is limited evidence about the soil’s physical, chemical and biological condition at that time, although there is an understanding of soil changes associated with land clearing, and conversion to land uses such as agriculture and forestry. Most assessments of soil change presented here relate to the condition in the 2011 assessment, unless otherwise stated.
A new generation of large-scale soil mapping (see Box LAN9) will inform national mapping and monitoring of carbon, biodiversity, agricultural impact and ecosystem functions in general.