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Soils of Britain

Themes: Soil-forming factors | The main soils of Britain | Other soils in Britain | Quiz

Britain has a very varied climate and geology which has led to a wide range of soils being developed. The annual rainfall varies from about 250mm in East Anglia to over 2,000mm on the top of Mount Snowdon in North Wales. Furthermore, there are significantly higher annual temperatures in Southern England than in the north of Scotland and this affects the rate of weathering of rock to form soils. Geologically, the rocks of Britain, which form the parent material of soils, are also very varied both in age and in type. Britain has examples of rocks and other geological deposits from the Pre-Cambrian, from 2,000,000,000 years old - (that's 2 billion years!) through to those formed during the Ice Age (about 1 million years ago) and other more recent deposits. This diversity in climate and geology has led to over 700 different types of soil recognised in Britain.

The vegetation also influences the way soils form. Since the last Ice Age, when soils have began to re-form after being scoured away, there have been many changes in vegetation. As the temperatures warmed up after the Ice Age, so different types of vegetation colonised the soils, each making its mark on soil formation. One of the more recent colonisations was that of deciduous woodland which covered much of Britain except the higher mountains. Under this vegetation the brown earth soil, one of the main soil types of Britain, became widespread

In the last 250 years in particular, humans have had a major effect on the soils of Britain. Much of the deciduous forest was cut down in the 16th to the 18th centuries and the land ploughed to make way for agriculture. Since deforestation much of the land has been cultivated. In recent years there has been intensification of agriculture, with more extensive and sophisticated mechanisation, much increased use of fertiliser, and extended use of pesticides and herbicides. Humans now play a large part in soil development.

Themes: Soil-forming factors | The main soils of Britain | Other soils in Britain | Quiz