Collecting soil data

Forest owners and managers need to gather soils data to comply with the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). Data on soils is also needed to apply for consent or grant support from Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS).

For an initial assessment of the soil on a site, you can find useful background information from the maps available on this web site. The national maps are mostly at a scale of 1:250,000. This level of information could be useful for broad, pre-application discussions with a Conservancy and key stakeholders, for example.

However, forest planning and management decisions require more detailed information. Forest plans submitted to FCS need to be mapped at a scale of 1:10,000, and because publicly-available soil maps are often not at this scale it is highly likely that you will need to carry out a site-based soil survey and possibly an analysis of soil samples to get sufficiently accurate data. This will tell you how soil types change across a site and, once done, the data collected will serve you well in making good decisions for your land.

A straightforward soil survey method is described in ‘Guidance for undertaking a soil survey for woodland creation and management’. This will be published soon.

 

Soil data and information required to comply with the UKFS

The UKFS sets out the importance of good soil management in forests and how it should be undertaken to help achieve good tree growth and sustainable forests. All forest and woodland managers must comply with the UKFS by addressing those factors most important for forest soils: acidification, contamination, compaction, disturbance, erosion, fertility and organic matter.

The UKFS sets out a number of guidelines on how to comply with its Requirements for soil. Table 1 provides links to soil data and information that can help implement these Requirements and guidelines at different stages of the forest management cycle. In many cases, field-level assessment is needed too. Table 1 only includes those UKFS Soil requirements that can be informed by existing maps and their associated data.

 

Table 1: Where to find soils data and information to help implement the UKFS at key stages of the forest management cycle.

Pre-application and scoping stage

UKFS requirements & guidelines for soils at each forest management stage Existing data which can help provide background information How to obtain further detail required
Peat depth

Soil Guideline 24: Avoid establishing new forests on soils with peat exceeding 50 cm in depth and on sites that would compromise the hydrology of adjacent bog or wetland habitats

Carbon and peatland 2016 map can be used to identify areas where peat is likely to be found (but not its depth) Peat survey

Soil Guideline 25: Consider the balance of benefits for carbon and other ecosystem services before making the decision to restock on soils with peat exceeding 50 cm in depth

No suitable map available Peat survey
Vulnerability to erosion

Soil Guideline 19: Consider planting woodland to protect erosion-prone soils and intercept sediment-laden run-off

OS mapping layer (scale 1:10,000) available on most digital maps, to identify gradient Soil survey alongside aerial photography, topography and vegetation
Risk of slope failure

Soil Guideline 18: On steep slopes where there is a risk of slope failure or serious erosion, consider alternatives to clearfelling

OS mapping layer (scale 1:10,000) available on most digital maps, to identify gradient Interpretation using soil type alongside aerial photography, topography and vegetation

Work plan stage

UKFS requirements & guidelines for soils at each forest management stage Existing data which can help provide background information How to obtain further detail required

Soil type and suitability

Soil Good forestry practice Requirement 1: The quality of forest soil should be protected or enhanced in terms of its physical, chemical and biological properties

National soil map of Scotland (covers the whole of Scotland at a scale of 1:250,000)

Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) (covers agricultural areas and adjacent uplands at a scale of 1:25,000)

The soil types in parts of the National Forest Estate can be found on the UK Soil Observatory website

Use field evidence (e.g. from soil pits) and interpretation (e.g. from topography, vegetation and current land use)
Vulnerability to erosion

Soil Guideline 16: Address the risks of soil erosion as part of the forest and operational planning processes

OS mapping layer (scale 1:10,000) available on most digital maps, to identify gradient Interpretation using soil type alongside aerial photography, topography and vegetation
Soil fertility

Soil Guideline 21: Choose tree species and silvicultural systems that are well suited to the site and, with the exception of short rotation forestry or short rotation coppice, do not require continuing inputs of fertilisers

Ecological Site Classification Decision Support System (ESC-DSS)

For ESC, use evidence collected from field surveys rather than default values
Risk of increased acidification

Soil Guideline 2: On soils classified as at high risk of increased soil and water acidification (regardless of water body status) avoid short rotation forestry or short rotation coppice, and the harvesting of whole trees, forest residues and tree stumps

Map of Catchments vulnerable to acidification Not needed

Forest operations

UKFS requirements & guidelines for soils at each forest management stage Existing data which can help provide background information How to obtain further detail required

Soil fertility

Soil Good forestry practice Requirement 2: Forest soil fertility levels should be maintained to safeguard the soil’s character and productive potential

No maps suitable for forestry are available

Soil survey

 

Soil Guideline 20: Ensure the removal of forest products from the site, including non-timber products, does not deplete site fertility or soil carbon over the long term and maintains the site potential

Soil Guideline 22: Minimise the use of inorganic fertilisers and confine these to areas where analysis clearly shows management benefits

Vulnerability to compaction or erosion

Soil Guideline 10: On sites vulnerable to compaction and erosion, consider the weather and aim to carry out operations during dry periods; plan ahead for changes in the weather that could affect site conditions

OS mapping layer (scale 1:10,000) available on most digital maps Interpretation using soil type alongside aerial photography, topography and vegetation
Soil acidity

Soil Guideline 3: On brownfield sites, consider ameliorating excess soil acidity by incorporating alkaline materials

No maps available Soil analysis of selected samples
Risk of increased acidification

Soil Guideline 1: Avoid filling trenches, created for mounding on restock sites, with fresh brash. This applies only to soils that are at high risk of increased acidification and / or to catchments identified by SEPA as failing or at risk of failing good status due to acidification

Map of Catchments vulnerable to acidification Not needed
Water classification hub - catchments identified as failing / at risk of failing good status due to acidification

 

Soil data and information to assess a site for woodland creation

Table 2 provides links to soil related maps that can provide information when assessing a site for a woodland creation proposal. It also highlights where field-level assessment is more appropriate. Table 2 only includes the information that can be gained from publicly available maps and data.

Woodland creation applications submitted to FCS should refer to the FC soil classification system. This system is used widely in forest soil survey work and is explained in the FC Field Guide ‘The identification of soils for forest management’. A table to help you translate data from the Soil Survey of Scotland classification into the FC classification system is given in ‘FC soil codes translation table’.

Guidance on managing specific forest soils (where available) is on the FCS soil and water management web page.

 

Table 2: Where to find soils data and information to help support a woodland creation proposal to Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS)

Soil data and information to consider in a woodland creation proposal to FCS  Existing data which can help provide background information  How to obtain further detail required 
Soil type  National soil map of Scotland (covers the whole of Scotland at a scale of 1:250,000)
Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) (covers agricultural areas and adjacent uplands at a scale of 1:25,000) 
Soil survey and
interpretation 
Land suitability for woodland creation  National scale Land Capability for Forestry (covers the whole of Scotland at a scale of 1:250,000)  Soil survey and interpretation 
Location of prime agricultural land  National scale Land Capability for Agriculture (covers the whole of Scotland at a scale of 1:250,000)
Land capability for agriculture (partial cover) (covers agricultural areas and adjacent uplands at a scale of 1:50,000) 
Not needed 
Presence of deep peat (peat layer greater than 50cm)  Carbon and peatland 2016 map - areas where peat is likely to be found (but not its depth)  Peat survey 
Digital terrain  OS mapping layer (1:10,000) available on most digital maps  Not needed 

 

Using soils data to inform the response of a forest to climate change

In order to comply with the UKFS Requirements for forests and climate change, forest managers should:

  • consider how forests contribute to mitigating climate change by capturing and storing carbon;
  • plan and manage forests to enhance their resilience and mitigate the risks posed from climate change.

Soils data can help with this.

Managing the carbon in forest soil is important since there might be more carbon stored here than in the tree biomass, especially on peat. Data on where peat lies, and at what depth, will help determine if woodland creation or restocking is appropriate, and help identify where action should be taken to maintain soil fertility and soil carbon.

Accurate soils data will help plan and manage a forest to increase its resilience to the risks posed by climate change. Climate change projections suggest that, on some sites and for some species, growing conditions will become more challenging, especially where summer drought coincides with free-draining soils. The ESC-DSS tool takes into account climate change projections for 2050 and 2080, so it is important that accurate soils data is used.

More guidance for forest managers is on the FCS webpage on climate change.


This page was last updated on 04 Apr 2018

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