Peter Somerville

Trees growing in urban centres provide more benefits to the inhabitants than the provision of shade. There are large financial, emotional and ecological benefits that trees can provide so long as they are large and healthy.

As city populations grow, and become denser, the growth and health of trees becomes more difficult. To increase the tree canopy coverage of urban centres land managers are turning towards more marginal and damaged land in which to grow trees. Compacted and degraded urban soil can be a hostile place for trees to grow.

My research explores methods that may be able to convert hostile urban soils into places that trees can grow successfully by utilising organic waste products.

My research is highlighting the importance of soil types and species selection when considering what type of soil remediation could be undertaken to improve tree growth.

Quantifying the benefits of different types of soil interventions on distinct soil textures with different moisture availability will help land managers chose appropriate methods to improve urban soils. The implications of this are greener, more sustainable cities.


Somerville P, Farrell C, May P and Livesley S (2020) Biochar and compost equally improve urban soil physical and biological properties and tree growth, with no added benefit in combination. Science of The Total Environment. Volume 706, 135736

Somerville P, Farrell C, May P, and Livesley S (2019) Tree water use strategies and soil type determine growth responses to biochar and compost organic amendments. Soil and Tillage Research 192: 12-21

Somerville P, May P and Livesley S (2018) Effects of deep tillage and municipal green waste compost amendments on soil properties and tree growth in compacted urban soils. Journal of Environmental Management, 227:365-374


After completing a level 3 Certificate in Horticulture/Landscaping from NMIT to help in my landscaping business, I discovered a passion for academic research.

Since then I have studied Garden Design with Andrew Laidlaw and completed a Master of Urban Horticulture at the University of Melbourne.  I am currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne examining techniques to improve degraded urban soils so that they may better support tree establishment and growth.

Previously, I spent 20 years as a professional rowing coach in Australia and Great Britain.

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