Back to top

Information for foresters and anyone interested in woodland management on the best ways to manage soils for trees – while still looking after the soils.


Know my soils

Knowing and protecting soil is a crucial part of sustainable forest management for both establishment of new woodland and management of existing forest estates.

Good soil data increases the chances of successful establishment and growth. By using soils data with climate information, new forest and woodland can be created on the most suitable soils. 

Planting the right trees can improve landscapes on degraded urban fringes, provide habitats for wildlife and reduce diffuse water pollution. Choosing the right trees will also ensure that species diversity and productivity are maintained under changing climate conditions.

To find out about the soil in your area you can access the soil maps for your area thorough the <MAP section> of this web page:

Soils in parts of the National Forest Estate have been mapped in more detail. The map is available from the UK Soil Observatory.

You can access information on the Forestry Commission UK forest classification that may increase the chances of successful establishment and growth:

You can also access information on the 1980s Land capability for forestry map for your area:

Be aware that the revised Soils classification for Scotland (2013) is different from the soil typology used in the identification of soils for forest management. The relationship between the Forestry Commission soil classification and the 1984 Soil Survey of Scotland soil classification is shown in the Forestry Commission soil classification table.


Managing forest soils

Our woodlands are managed by professional foresters, farmers, communities, conservation bodies and enthusiasts. There is a wealth of information available on the management of forests and woodlands that recognises the role of soil in woodland ecosystems. Effective woodland protection and management also considers a wide range of issues such as soil carbon management, biodiversity and landscape.

For example, on deep peat soils (which are defined by Forestry Commission as soils with a peat layer more than 50 cm deep) forest managers need to consider the carbon impact of different management options alongside other priorities such as timber production, biodiversity and landscape. Read more about peatland management from the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) peatland habitats webpage.

The Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) sets out robust requirements for voluntary carbon sequestration projects that incorporate core principles of good carbon management as part of modern sustainable forest management. Read more about carbon sequestration.

The Ecological Site Classification Decision Support System includes soils information about site suitability for forest plantation.

Best practice during forest operations also ensures good soil management and you can learn more from Forest Research publications:


Managing native woodland soils

In contrast to forest plantations, native woodland is descended directly from those trees which spread over the British Isles after the last glaciation. Some woodlands have developed a unique association with specific soil types and soil biodiversity that are essential to their conservation.

For example, wet woodland occurs on poorly drained or seasonally wet ground on a range of soil types from nutrient-rich mineral soils to acidic nutrient-poor organic soils. Caledonian pinewood occurs on thin, infertile, mineral soils and many trees will only thrive in association with some soil fungi which link up with their roots in a mutually beneficial relationship in which both partners gain nutrients.

Some of the changes we see in our woodland may be the inevitable response of the soil to climate change. Woodland management also needs to take into account risks such as:

  • Eutrophication of soils through airborne pollution or agricultural run-off
  • Modification of drainage
  • Compaction or disturbance of soil by trampling or machinery
  • Application of pesticides, fungicides and substances containing nitrogen and / or phosphate that alters soil biodiversity
  • Liming that alters the soil pH dramatically.

Habitat fragmentation can also be a problem. The Potential Native Woodland Networks model includes soil information to assess the suitability of Scotland’s Forest Habitat Network expansion - Developing native woodland network.

This page was last updated on 04 Apr 2017

  Adobe Acrobat Reader is the free, trusted leader for reliably viewing, annotating and signing PDFs.
Download Adobe Acrobat Reader