The National soil map of Scotland and the Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) provide useful background information on the types and properties of soils at national and regional scales. The more detailed Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) covers the main areas of cultivated land. However, for making decisions on specific management practices at a field scale you will need to carry out more detailed sampling and analysis.
If you click on one of the soil maps, or insert a grid reference or post code, a box will pop up which will give you more information about the type and properties of the soil found at that point.
There is a range of thematic maps which show single soil properties. For example, a soil phosphorus sorption capacity map can help you make decisions about the right amount of phosphorus to apply for healthy crop growth.
Additional information on the properties of some of the individual soil types (Soil series) shown on these maps can be found in Soil Map Unit Description Sheets (SMUDS).
The National scale land capability for agriculture map and the Land capability for agriculture (partial cover) map show the capability of land for growing crops, taking into account the soil, climate and the landscape. Land is classified by considering the range of crops that can be grown and how well they are likely to grow - with the best quality land capable of growing a wide range of crops with high yields. The more detailed Land capability for agriculture (partial cover) map covers the main areas of cultivated land in Scotland.
On a field scale, there are a range of soil properties that will determine what you will be able to grow in your fields including soil texture, structure, organic matter content and chemistry.
Soils need to have the right pH, balance of nutrients and have a good structure to grow crops efficiently. The best way to find out the pH and nutrient concentrations of your soils is to take soil samples from your fields and have them tested. A number of accredited laboratories will analyse soil samples and some can also help with interpretation of the results.
Soil organic matter is vital for a wide variety of reasons. It is probably the most important component of soil because it affects a number of other soil properties. The soil organic matter content can be determined by taking a soil sample and having it analysed. You can also estimate the soil organic carbon content of soil by using a soil organic carbon app (SOCiT) for both iPhone and Android.
You can find out more about soil testing and how to take soil samples for different analyses in the Valuing your Soils booklet. You can compare some of the properties determined in your soil with the national average for that soil type using the Soil Information for Scottish Soils (SIFSS) website and downloadable app for both iPhone and Android.
You may need to assess your soil structure to determine if the soils is compacted or if the drainage is impeded. Soil structure can be assessed visually using the VESS test. The Squelch test can be carried out to work out when to avoid certain farming operations in order to prevent soil compaction.
Soil organisms such as earthworms are also very good for soil. They can improve soil structure by burrowing and moving organic matter through the soil profile. Their burrows also allow water and air to get into the soil. They are useful indicators of biological soil quality, which can be assessed at the same time as the soil structure by taking a spadeful of soil and counting the worms.
There are a number of approaches that you can use to help keep your soil in good condition and ultimately help you get the most from your land. Healthy soils can also help protect the wider environment.
Soils are at risk from a range of threats including erosion and compaction. Risk maps can help you identify areas on your farm likely to be vulnerable to some of these threats. The Valuing your Soils booklet summarises a number of ways to protect your soils, including how to maintain organic matter content, how to prevent erosion and compaction, how to carry out nutrient budgeting and assess fertiliser requirement.
Cross compliance includes standards that land managers must meet in order to receive support scheme payments. Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) are a range of standards designed to protect soils, habitats and landscape features on agricultural land. Standards have been developed to protect soil against erosion and to maintain soil organic matter levels.
Good soil management also helps protect the wider environment, for example, by preventing diffuse water pollution and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Guidance on how to reduce diffuse pollution risks from agriculture is provided in the Farming and Water Scotland website.
The Farming for a Better Climate initiative works with farmers to find practical ways to reduce the impact of farming on the climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting and improving the soil’s carbon store.
Looking after soils can also help benefit biodiversity.
A series of risk maps show areas in the main cultivated parts of Scotland at risk of erosion, runoff, leaching and both topsoil and subsoil compaction, based on the inherent properties of the soil and the landscape. The maps do not take into account land management or land cover. They can be used to help you make land management decisions to help you avoid damaging the soil and potentially damaging the wider environment, for example by causing diffuse water pollution.
You can also find out more about the risk maps.
There is a wide range of websites, technical notes and guidance providing advice on agricultural soils and their management.
Scotland's Farm Advisory Service (FAS) is funded by the EU and Scottish Government to help farmers and crofters to increase the profitability and sustainability of their businesses. It provides advice on a number of topics including Soils. It includes links to videos and technical notes.
Farming for a Better Climate (FFBC) provides practical support to help farm businesses reduce their impact on the climate and adapt to climate change. It provides guidance on soils, fertilisers and manures as well as a range of practical guides, including on:
The Farming and Water Scotland website provides ideas, information and contacts to help reduce the risk of diffuse water pollution and benefit the farm business.
This page was last updated on 04 May 2021
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