Information on soils for farmers, crofters and anyone interested in growing food, rearing livestock or other productive uses of land.
What soils do I have?
What are the soils in my area?
The National soil map of Scotland and the Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) provide information on soil types at national and regional scales. The Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) covers the main agricultural areas in more detail. The data these maps provide can give useful background information for agricultural soil management. However, for making decisions on specific management practices you will need to carry out more detailed sampling and analysis.
You can access soil maps for your area through the MAP section of this web page:
- National soil map of Scotland - Go to the map – information about the map
- Soil map of Scotland (partial cover) - Go to the map – information about the map
Find more about your soils properties
Additional information on the soil properties of some of the individual soil series described in these maps is also available from the Soil Map Unit Description Sheets (SMUDS).
What can my soils do?
Maps have been created which show the capability of land for growing crops, taking into account the soil, climate and where the soil is situated in the landscape. The land is classified taking into account the range of crops a piece of land can grow and how well it could grow them. These maps are available across the country at a national scale and in more detail for the main agricultural areas of Scotland (partial cover).
- National scale land capability for agriculture - Go to the map - information about the map
- Land capability for agriculture (partial cover) - Go to the map - information about the map
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.
Further information on these properties and how they affect what you can grow in your fields can be found in the Valuing your Soils booklet, the practical guidance for farmers on how to protect and improve your soils.
Testing my soils
Soils need to have the right pH, balance of nutrients and be in a good structural condition 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 the soil samples and help with interpretation including SAC Analytical Services Department and Hutton Soils: soil analysis service (other laboratories are available).
You may need to assess your soil structure to determine compaction and drainage. 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 organic matter is vital for a whole range of reasons. It is probably the most important component of soil because it affects a whole range of other soil properties. A soil organic carbon app (SOCiT) has been developed which allows you to estimate the organic carbon content of your soil.
Soil organisms like 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 spade full of soil and counting the worms!
Further information on soil testing and how to take soil samples for different analyses is given in the Valuing your Soils booklet.
Managing my soils
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. Keeping your soil in good condition can help protect the wider environment as well.
Soils are at risk from a number of threats including erosion and compaction, and risk maps are being developed. Again the Valuing your Soils booklet summarises a range of methods which you can use to protect your soils, including how to maintain organic matter content, how to prevent erosion and compaction, how to assess fertiliser requirement and how to carry out nutrient budgeting.
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 prevent soil erosion and to protect soil organic matter content.
Good soil management also helps protect the wider environment, for example, by preventing diffuse water pollution and reducing our 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 benefit biodiversity.
A wide range of technical notes and guidance providing advice on a range of soil issues are available:
- SRUC technical notes, including:
- Farming For A Better Climate - Improving soil quality - SRUC
- Farming For A Better Climate – Soil management - SRUC
- Farming For A Better Climate - Alleviating soil compaction - SRUC
- Farming and biodiversity – Supplementary feeding and species rich grassland management - Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
- Managing peatland – Fen Management Handbook - Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
- Farming and peatland - Guidance for Land Managers - Grazing Peatland - Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
- Organic waste and its benefit to soils - Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)
- Linking Environment And Farming - Simply Sustainable Soils
- Soil Association - Improve your soils
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