Scotland's Soils

 

Soils are one of Scotland’s greatest assets. They’re seen as a vital part of our economy, environment and heritage, to be safeguarded for existing and future generations.

 

Scotland has a huge variety of soil types. This is because our soils are created from a wide range of rocks and sediments by various processes that are controlled by the climate and where soil is located in the landscape.

 

To see soil maps of Scotland and find out more about how soils form, visit the Scotland's Soils website.

Planting out lettuce at Whitmuir Organic farm near Peebles. Forth and Borders Area ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot
World Congress of Soil Science 2022 Logo

World Congress of Soil Science

At a time of global concern for our planet and its growing population, managing our soils sustainably has never been as important.

The World Congress of Soil Science is a leading international soil science conference, held every four years in different countries and attended by over 3,000 soil scientists from around the globe.

NatureScot are pleased to be sponsoring the upcoming congress being held in Glasgow from 31 July – 5 August 2022.

Why Do Soils Matter?

Soil performs many roles. They cover most of the natural world and are the foundation of all ecosystems and services on land, supporting key processes in biomass production and mass exchange with atmospheric and hydrological systems.
 

The main benefits we get from healthy soil include:

  • Growing food and trees
  • Filtering water
  • Controlling the rate at which rainwater reaches watercourses
  • Storing carbon and exchanging greenhouse gases with the air
  • Supporting valuable habitats, plants and animals
  • Preserving cultural and archaeological heritage
  • Providing raw materials.
A tractor ploughing the soil ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

 

Scotland's soils are a massive carbon store, holding more than 3,000 megatonnes of carbon (of which 53% is held in deep peatland soils). This is about 60 times the amount of carbon held in our trees and plants, making soils our main terrestrial store of carbon.

 

Pressures on Soils

Soils perform valuable roles and functions, but climate change and land-use changes threaten many of these soil functions. Soils need to be healthy - that is in a good state - to be able to provide these benefits. 

However, there are numerous pressures on our soils which can damage them and may mean they are no longer be able to provide some or all of these benefits. Damaged soils can therefore be a problem, not just for the soil itself, but also for people and the wider environment. Responsible management of Scotland's soils is crucial in responding to the climate emergency.

The State of Scotland’s Soil Report identified the main threats to soil quality as:

  • Loss of organic matter
  • Changes in soil biodiversity
  • Erosion
  • Covering soils with waterproof materials
Hands holding seedling in soil

Managing Scotland's Soils

How we manage Scotland’s soils must take into account issues of productivity as well as conservation and environmental quality. This resource takes such a long time to form and such a short time to lose that protecting the existing soil carbon store is our first priority.

NatureScot is helping to protect and conserve Scotland’s important soils to reduce the impacts of climate change. We set out our strategy in 2010 for protecting and conserving Scotland’s important soils to reduce the impacts of climate change through carbon loss. Our activities focus on four priority areas:

Participants on a Branching Out course at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, August 2012. ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Designated Areas

‘Healthy’ functional soils, capable of delivering a full range of ecosystem services, are needed to support species and habitat conditions and diversity.
 

Atlantic oak woodland

Woodland Management

Woodlands have the capacity to store atmospheric carbon in their timber and leaf litter, and either raise or lower soil carbon levels.

Peatland Action - Digger re-profiling bare peat hag.

Peatland Management

Peatlands contain the highest stock of soil carbon in their peat deposits. Peat in Scotland’s wetlands is also a major carbon store.
Visit our peatland restoration page.

Flows windfarm

Renewable Energy & Land Use Change

Positive land management practices can help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Please see soil management for more information, especially on how NatureScot is helping to conserve Scotland's soils to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Planning and Development

Planners and developers should think about soil as a resource that supports many ecosystem services. It’s vital to consider the full range of threats to soils and the potential effects of any development – both on-site and beyond.

To better understand the importance of soils in the wider environmental context, explore the planners and developers area on the Scotland’s soils website. The information here will also help you assess the impact of proposals on soils and on the environmental processes that soils control.

Our approach to planning and development is that the planning system should seek to protect soils from damage, especially:

  • prime agricultural land
  • soils with high organic content
  • soil associated directly with a habitat (eg. peatland) or key geodiversity features

Find out about the likely presence of peatland in areas of Scotland using the Carbon and Peatland 2016 map, a predictive tool which provides an indication of the likely presence of peat on each individually mapped area.

Blanket bog at Claish Moss NNR, Ardnamurchan ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

Resources

Please see Scotland's Soils for national soils maps, resources for land managers and developers, and much more.