Working Group F “Visual Soil Examination and Evaluation” (VSEE) was formed over 30 years ago within the International Soil & Tillage Research Organisation (ISTRO) on the initiative of Tom Batey. The objectives of the Working Group are to stimulate interest in field methods of visual-tactile soil assessment, to encourage their wider use and to foster international cooperation. The previous main meeting of the group in 2005 at Peronne, France, brought together, for the first time, a group of soil scientists who had each developed a method to evaluate soil structure directly in the field (Boizard et al., 2006). Ten visual and tactile methods were used to assess soil structure on the same soil. This stimulated significant ongoing cooperation between participants and several authors have since modified and developed their procedures (Mueller et al., 2009 and Shepherd, 2009). Cooperation also led to the re-development of the Peerlkamp numeric method of assessment of soil structure into the Visual Evaluation of Soil Structure (VESS) spade test (Ball et al., 2007 and Guimarães et al., 2011). The meeting also recommended further cooperation between members of the Working Group. The evaluation of subsoil structure was discussed at an intermediate meeting of the group in January 2009 at Edinburgh. A common theme from the two earlier meetings was to develop both topsoil and subsoil methods to allow identification of conditions where modification of structure was required, possibly by use of a harmonized scale. Other recommendations were to include coarse textured soils, to consider controlled traffic, to relate sampling location to vegetation and crop conditions and to relate the results of visual evaluation of soil to crop performance. This latter has already been achieved with the VSA test from New Zealand which has now been extended to the assessment of environmental conditions such as potential greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient loss into groundwater and waterways and carbon sequestration (Shepherd, 2009). The meeting was held on 16th–18th May 2011 at Aarhus University Flakkebjerg Research Centre, Denmark. Twenty-six delegates attended from 10 countries – France, Denmark, Ireland, UK, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Sweden, Germany and Norway. This Special Issue of Soil and Tillage Research includes papers presented at the meeting, together with one paper related to the activity of the Working Group since the meeting in Peronne.
Soil and Tillage Research, 2013, Vol 127, Issue 1-2, p. 1-2