Soils form over thousands of years through local interactions of climate, geology, hydrology and management, giving variability in the proportion of sand, silt & clay, soil depth and what underlies the subsoil.

Soils form over thousands of years through local interactions of climate, geology, hydrology and management. Physical and chemical alteration (weathering) break down parent materials (solid rocks and drift deposits). Finally, biological cycles of growth and decay produce the critical extra ingredient: organic matter (OM). Each field has unique soils. Underlying geology determines the soil parent material and its properties, including soil depth, stoniness, mineralogy and texture. Soil maps, therefore, often closely resemble geological maps. Parent material is the main determinant of whether soils are likely to have a shortage or an abundance of particular nutrients – phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg) or trace elements.

There are about 750 soil series in England and Wales. National soil maps group soils that often occur together into smaller ‘map units’. At present, there are about 300 ‘soil associations’ and about 30 ‘soilscapes’ in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have a different classification system). The basic soil types determine many of the inherent soil-related constraints (e.g. waterlogging and erosion risks, soil texture, depth and stoniness) reflected in the agricultural land use capability classification.

This text is from AHDB's Principles of Soil Management

The Soil Survey maps and classifications in England are owned by Cranfield University. You can find out more from their Land Information System at

A simple soil classification is provided by RB209 The Fertiliser Manual, grouping soils as Deep Clay, Deep Silts, Light Sands, Shallow, Organic, Peaty or Medium. 

Various mapping tools are available to get soil information;

BGS Soilscapes viewer

Cranfield LandIS

EU soils viewer

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Good soil structure is vital for optimising water and nutrient use efficiency; and for sustaining profitable cropping systems. Poor soil structure and compaction can reduce yields, restrict access for field operations, increase fuel use and, for high value root and vegetable crops, increase reliance on irrigation. Where there are clear signs of soil compaction, cultivations to remove the compaction may result in a yield benefit. Visual soil assessment is important to assess the extent and depth of compaction and to inform decisions on the most appropriate course of action.  

The proportions of primary particles (sand, silt, and clay) in a soil define its texture.  Silt particles range from 0.002–0.06 mm; clay is small and sand is larger, up to 2 mm.  Marked changes in texture often occur vertically through a soil profile. 

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