Scotland’s soils are an important natural resource. They play an essential part in all our lives, providing us with a wide range of benefits.  Some of these benefits are obvious, like growing food, while many are less clear, like filtering water, reducing flood risk and influencing climate.

Key messages

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

Healthy soils can provide us with a wide range of benefits. Some of these benefits are obvious, like growing food, while many are less clear, like filtering water, reducing flood risk and influencing climate.

However, our soils can be damaged by a number of processes including erosion, compaction and loss of organic matter. Damaged soils can be a problem, not just for the soil itself, but also for people and the wider environment. For example, rivers can be damaged by soil erosion.

We need to protect our soils so that they can continue to provide the benefits we need, now and in future.

Land Infographic (PDF)

Scotland’s soils website

Scotland's soils

This website provides data and information on Scotland’s soils. It highlights the importance of soils, what they do for us, how well they do it and what happens when they are damaged:

  • You can look at a range of maps and download the data associated with these maps.
  • The website also points to other useful sources of data and information.
  • The website is part of the wider Scotland’s environment network and was created in partnership by a number of organisations.
  • Find out more about Scotland’s soils, including links to further information, in the soils website.

Maps and data

A range of soil maps are available on Scotland’s soils website, as well as point data relating to specific locations where soils have been sampled and analysed for a range of properties. There are also links to where you can download the data.

Soil maps show the distribution of soils across the land. Soil maps were originally produced by field surveyors who walked over the landscape, looking at the soils and other features such as vegetation, and drew boundaries between different soil types. Mapping methods have evolved over time, and now use techniques such as aerial photography and satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

National soil map of Scotland

Soil map of Scotland (partial cover)

World Reference Base soil map

Capability maps classify land based on the potential for what it could grow and how well it could grow it. These take into account soils, climate and landscape. Capability maps are available for both agriculture and forestry.

National scale land capability for forestry

National scale land capability

Land capability for agriculture (partial cover)

Thematic maps show the distribution of a specific soil property such as soil organic matter content.

Topsoil organic carbon concentration

Available water capacity

Soil texture in nitrate vulnerable zones

Carbon and peatland 2016

Map of soil phosphorus sorption capacity

Risk maps - Soil compaction risk

Risk maps show areas of soil at risk of erosion, runoff, leaching and both topsoil and subsoil compaction, based on the inherent properties of the soil and the landscape.

Map of subsoil compaction risk (partial cover)

Map of topsoil compaction risk (partial cover)

Map of soil erosion risk (partial cover)

Map of soil leaching potential (partial cover)

Map of runoff risk (partial cover)

Point data are data that relate to soils at a specific location. At these points, soils have been described, sampled and later analysed for a range of properties. The point data maps show where the soils were sampled and selected properties of interest.

National Soils Inventory of Scotland (NSIS 1978 – 88)

Parent material

Topsoil lead (Pb) concentration

Topsoil zinc (Zn) concentration

Peatland Action peat depth

Also available

Soil Survey of Scotland 1:250 000 scanned maps (1980s) Scanned copies of the original seven 1:250 000 Soil Survey of Scotland maps were made available to celebrate World Soils Day (5 December 2014) at the start of the International Year of Soils, 2015.

Soil Survey of Scotland 1:63 360 scanned maps (1950s-80s) Scanned copies of most of the the 1:63 360 soil maps, which mainly cover the cultivated agricultural areas of Scotland and some of the adjacent uplands, can be viewed on the National Library of Scotland website.

What are we doing?

Although there is no one-size-fits-all soil protection policy for Scotland, there is a range of policies and legislation that protects some aspects of soil and influences how our soils are managed.

The Scottish Government published the Scottish Soil Framework in 2009 with the aim to:

"... promote the sustainable management and protection of soils consistent with the economic, social and environmental needs of Scotland."

The Framework set out to co-ordinate existing policies that related to soils. A number of actions to help protect soils and encourage sustainable soil management were agreed.

The State of Scotland’s Soil Report, Scotland’s soils website and Scotland’s Soil Monitoring Action Plan were all developed as a result of the Framework. A Scottish Soil Framework Progress report, published in 2013, provides further information on the outputs of the Framework.

State of Scotland’s soil report published in 2011, concluded that the main threats to Scotland’s soils were loss of organic matter, changes in soil biodiversity, erosion, and covering soil in impermeable materials such as concrete.

Soil Monitoring Action Plan (Soil MAP) is working to improve communication, awareness and understanding between a range of different users. The aim is to develop a soil monitoring programme that supports the collection of soil data and makes soil data and information available that meets the needs of these users.

A list of European, UK, and Scottish policy and legislation relating to soils is provided on Scotland’s soils website.

This page was updated on 06 Feb 2020

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Useful contacts

Scottish Forestry An Executive Agency of the Scottish Government, replaces Forestry Commission Scotland, and is responsible for forestry policy, regulation, support and the awarding and payment of forestry grants.

Scottish Environment Protection Agency - Scotland’s principal environmental regulator, protecting and improving Scotland’s environment. Its role is to make sure that the environment and human health are protected and that Scotland’s natural resources and services are used as sustainably as possible and contribute to sustainable economic growth

Scottish Government - Responsible for most of the issues of day-to-day concern to the people of Scotland, including health, education, justice, rural affairs, and transport

Scottish Natural Heritage - The Government's adviser on all aspects of nature and landscape across Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage works to promote, care for, and improve Scotland’s natural heritage

The James Hutton Institute - A world-leading scientific organisation encompassing a distinctive range of integrated strengths in land, crop, waters, environmental and socio-economic science