Soils of Britain

Great diversity on a small island

Did you know that there are over 1,800 British soils with a range of different profile types, despite the modest land area and limited range of cool, temperate climates?

Geologically, Britain has a wide range of rock types and these generate diverse soil parent materials, ranging from porous sands to impermeable clays and from acid to alkaline. This variety increased over the past two million years, when Britain's climate fluctuated between arctic Ice Ages and warm temperate. Surface materials were moved and sorted by ice, wind and water. This resulted in many mixtures and combinations of soil parent materials from different rock types. Climatic swings also affected the topography and many British landscapes were sculpted by ice and water.

There is a climatic gradation of soils in Britain from the warm dry lowlands to the cooler wetter highlands. Within this climatic pattern, soils vary between rock types, and locally within landscapes ranging from well drained soils on crests and slopes to imperfectly or poorly drained valley soils. Today, British soils are much modified by our agricultural and industrial activities.