All information Copyright, Cranfield University © 2021

Citation: To use information from this web resource in your work, please cite this as follows:
Cranfield University 2021. The Soils Guide. Available: Cranfield University, UK. Last accessed 01/12/2021


« 0814c NEWCHURCH 2 Associations Soilsguide Home 0343g Newmarket 2 »

Soil and site characteristics

Shallow well drained calcareous sandy and coarse loamy soils over chalk or chalk rubble. Some similar deeper sandy soils, often in an intricate striped pattern. Risk of wind erosion.


Chalk and chalky drift

Cropping and Land Use

Barley, sugar beet and some carrots; coniferous woodland: some lowland heath habitats; recreation.

Component soil series

Subgroup Series name Percentage WRB 2006 link
3.43 NEWMARKET 36% Calcaric Leptosols
3.43 ELVEDEN 34% Calcaric Regosols
5.21 METHWOLD 30% Calcaric Brunic Arenosols

Covers 253 km2 in England and Wales

Soilscapes Classification

Shallow lime-rich soils over chalk or limestone



Detailed Description

This association of shallow, calcareous coarse loamy and sandy soils covers 249 km², mainly in Norfolk where it occurs on the gentle slopes of the broad shallow valleys that dissect the Breckland . In the western part the largest parcels run from the level plateau surface, at about 35 m O.D. across gently undulating slopes to the valley margins which, close to the Fens, lie at about 5 m O.D. There are also small areas in north Norfolk landward of the coastal marshes at Blakeney, and in dry valleys astride the Lincolnshire-Humberside boundary south-west of Grimsby.

The main soils are the Newmarket series and the Elveden series, both brown rendzinas. The former has brown coarse loamy, the latter brown sandy topsoils which directly overlie a white rubble of chalk stones with flints and some sand. The Methwold series, which belongs to the typical brown calcareous sands, is a deeper soil with sandy topsoil and subsoil passing sharply into white chalky drift within 80cm depth. These three soils, found in roughly equal proportions, cover three-quarters of the land. Characteristically in Breckland they form patterned ground. Other soils found include the deep sandy Worlington, Redlodge and Newport series, the latter formerly described locally as Freckenham series. Coarse loamy Swaffham Prior soils also occur on the chalky drift. Brief descriptions of the main series are given below.

The patterned ground, so characteristic of the association, consists of alternate deep and shallow soils every few metres. On slopes the soils are aligned downslope to form a pattern of stripes 6 to 10 m wide. On level ground the deep soils form a polygonal network 5 to 7 m across around a core of shallower soils. On the level or very gently sloping ground in the western Breckland, Elveden or Newmarket soils about 30 cm deep alternate with Methwold or Swaffham Prior soils 40 to 80 cm deep. In central and eastern Breckland the depth range may be greater with the two shallow rendzinas interchanging with acid Worlington soils up to 100 cm deep as well as with Methwold soils. The deeper Newport and Redlodge soils occur together on the small but distinctive glaciofluvial gravel cappings that are found in the western Breckland and near Blakeney in north Norfolk.

In Humberside the association covers 0.5 km² to the west of Irby upon Humber. Newmarket soils are dominant, with some Elveden soils, on slopes of up to 7 degrees. Deeper coarse loamy Swaffham Prior soils occur in the bottom of the dry chalk valley.

Soil Water Regime

All the soils are permeable and overlie the chalk or chalky drift so the soils are well-drained (Wetness Class I). They readily absorb winter rain with little run-off. Crops obtain some moisture from the chalk but the coarse textured soils are moderately or very droughty for most arable crops, oilseed rape being least affected. All the soils are very droughty for grass.

Cropping and Land Use

The soils are particularly easy to work, and their field capacity period after rainfall is short and drainage is rapid. This allows cultivations within a day or two of heavy rain. There is time for some landwork even in winter, and spring cultivations are possible even in wet years especially as ploughing and seed bed preparation are possible in one day. In wet seasons the sandy Worlington and Newport soils slake and become compact so spring ploughing is often better than autumn cultivation. Direct drilling of cereals in spring is likely to lead to reduced yields as compared to conventional cultivations. In dry springs there is some risk of blowing on the sandier soils. The association forms some of the better land in Breckland and there is more arable land than on other local soil associations. Nevertheless, there is a considerable proportion in woodland or under grass heath, and broad shelter belts are a feature of the landscape. Barley, chiefly autumn sown, and sugar beet are the main crops but yields are small. The potential yield of grass is small as growth is confined to spring and early summer. Although most soils are calcareous, liming may be necessary where acid Worlington soils form part of the soil pattern. Nutrients are rapidly leached from the soils so top dressings of nitrogen are often applied in both February and March. Sugar beet requires the application of boron and on such coarse-textured soils with poor potassium reserves the response to sodium is particularly good.

The woodland is mainly part of the Forestry Commission's Thetford Forest which was planted with pine mostly between 1922 and 1937. It is now mature and is being gradually felled and replanted, Corsican Pine (Pinus nigra) replacing the original Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). It yields better than Scots Pine, and is more resistant to the root fungus Fomes annosus which thrives in soils with a pH greater than 6 and can devastate stands grown on the soils of this association.