Soils in the Welsh Landscape

Conway, J. S. 2006,   Soils in the Welsh landscape : (a field-based approach to the study of soil in the landscapes of North Wales) / Priddoedd yn Nhirwedd Cymru (dull ar raddfa maes o astudio pridd yn nhirweddau Gogledd Cymru).  Seabury Salmon & Associates, 31pp. ISBN: 0954696611  which can be bought from the Geomon website for £5.00

Soils in the Welsh Landscape

The book is intended both as a field guide and as an aid to understanding the soils of Wales.  The description or mention of any site should not be taken as indicative that access to a site is open, or that the site is safe.

Soil Profiles to Visit

The main aim of this book is to provide sites where you can see examples of the major soil groups present in North Wales.  I have tried to select sites that should remain accessible but soils do  ‘weather’ on exposure and a soil profile needs to be ‘cleaned’ up for each serious visit.   Please do not do more than is strictly necessary to expose the structure of the soil, or else these sites will be seriously eroded and of little value in the future.   In an attempt to provide sites that will remain accessible, mainly coastal, river or lake banks and low quarry faces have been chosen.   Soils within woods or farmers’ fields would provide better examples, and a wider range of soil types, but such sites cannot be left open, nor can the owner be expected to grant permission for repeated excavation.

For each soil type, a typical site is described and illustrated with a profile description and some background information on location, topography and climate.   The climatic details include the number of days the soil is likely to be at field capacity in average weather conditions (FCD), the accumulated temperature at the site (ATO), the moisture deficit for wheat (MDw) and potato crops (MDp).  Further example sites where similar soils can be seen are also listed.

Intending leaders of field parties should note that they have responsibilities for public access, for ensuring the safety of those participating in the fieldwork and for ensuring that no damage is caused to property or injury or loss to third parties. Please note that access and parking are not always easy on country roads in Wales, and one should drive with caution on narrow or single track roads, especially where sheep may have free access to the road (whether intentional or not).


North Wales has very diverse landscapes ranging from lowland areas around the coast to high mountainous areas dissected by both broad glacial valleys and deep narrow river valleys.  The geology is equally varied, with rocks from most time periods and almost every rock type known to man.   The climate ranges from mild maritime on the coast to virtually glacial on the mountain tops.    This diversity leads to a wonderful range of soils reflected in the rich tapestry of landscape and consequently land use throughout the country.

FAO SOil Poster [click to download a copy]

What is Soil?

Many of us tend to ignore soil – either it’s something dirty or maybe it’s something we just take for granted.   Plants grow, there’s plenty of food, what could be simpler? True, there are problems, we see soil erosion on the TV but it’s always somewhere else, usually in the Tropics.   Locally, things may go wrong with our crops, but we blame the weather or an inefficient farmer.   But what is soil?   Why is it important?   What can go wrong?  What can we do about it anyway? Take a look at any exposed soil, say a road cutting or a river bank, and you will see that it comprises several layers.  You will also see that the nature of these layers varies along the length of the exposure.   Don’t be surprised, soil varies enormously from place to place and this variation is the essential basis of biodiversity.  There are many different properties which contribute to the usefulness of soil, so different types of land use, be it farming, forests, sport fields or conservation areas, tend to be located where soils are best-suited to that purpose.

Why are we interested in soils ?

“A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people”. Franklin D Roosevelt

Franklin D Roosevelt’s name has appeared quite frequently in recent months in reference to his New Deal of 1933 that helped the United States recover from the Great Depression through long-term strategic projects and reforms.

Soils are one of our best defences against climate change

Soil, by its very nature, is a store of carbon in the form of organic matter. As plants die, their debris falls to the soil and is incorporated within by a variety of organisms, principally earthworms, or accumulates on the surface in their absence. either way, in the absence of cultivation organic matter accumulates. Careful management of soil by farmers can retain much of this organic matter but mainstream methods of farming [intensive cultivation, use of chemical fertilizers and biocides] have reduced the organic content by over 50%.

Many organizations are pressing farmers to adopt more environmentally sensitive forms of farming and providing advisory leaflets. Ranging from full organic farming to less intensive cultivation, reducing chemical use incorporating as much organic matter as possible, relying more on manure than fertilizer, using crop rotations and including grass / clover in the rotation can all help conserve organic matter. From a climate perspective, this is sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide

Leaflets from National Institute of Agricultural botany NIAB

Leaflets from Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board AHDB

Leaflets from the Environment Agency : a full manual called “Think Soils”

Leaflets from the Sustainable Soils Alliance : although mainly English government bodies , the advice is very useful

Leaflets from the British Soil Science Society : specialist note on soil carbon

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