Soil Site Reporter

Soil Associations


Soil and site characteristics
Well drained calcareous sandy soils, associated with similar but non-calcareous soils usually in an intricate striped pattern. Risk of wind erosion.

Chalky drift
Cropping and Land Use
Coniferous woodland and lowland heath habitats: some barley and sugar beet.

Component soil series

Subgroup Series name Percentage WRB 2006 link
5.21 METHWOLD 65% Calcaric Brunic Arenosols
5.54 WORLINGTON 35% Eutric Hypoluvic Arenosols
Covers 131 km2 in England and Wales

Soilscapes Classification
Freely draining sandy Breckland soils


Detailed Description

The Methwold association, consisting of well-drained moderately deep and deep, mainly calcareous, sandy soils on chalky drift, covers 129 kmĀ² mainly in the Breckland, but also in the Lincolnshire Wolds. In the Breckland, it occurs typically on gentle slopes in the dry valleys that penetrate the plateau, but it occurs on flat ground in the south-west. The Methwold series, typical brown calcareous sands, is the main soil, covering over half of the land. The main ancillary soils belong to Worlington series (argillic brown sands). Both soils are developed in chalky drift consisting of a rubble of chalk stones with flints, chalk flour and sand; the drift is white or yellowish in colour according to the proportion of chalk to sand. The surface layers incorporate some windblown sandy material. Methwold soils are slightly calcareous and pass to chalky drift at 40 to 80 cm depth. The Worlington soils have a thin but distinct brown clay-enriched horizon overlying the calcareous drift and are generally deeper and acid unless limed. Other ancillary soils include the shallow calcareous loamy Newmarket and the similar but sandy Elveden series. Newport series also occurs. The soils typically form patterned ground. Agriculturally the association provides the best land in the Breckland but, although mainly arable, there is extensive coniferous woodland and some semi-natural grass heath.

The soils usually form a striped pattern running downslope in which shallow Methwold soils alternate with deeper soils of the Worlington series. The patterns are best seen on heathland where the contrasting soils are picked out by changes in the vegetation. They show too on bare ploughed ground and in crops, which commonly show differential growth. The pattern is caused by frost heave in a periglacial climate causing upthrust of the chalky drift which, combined with downslope solifluction, formed ridges with centres 7 to 9 metres apart. The ridges have since eroded and the land surface has become smooth but the surface of the chalky drift remains ridged with shallow soil over the ridges. Within this broad pattern, the depth to chalky material is irregular with the deepest soils forming wedges in the drift, some of which are being extended downwards by solution. On convex slopes, shallow Newmarket and Elveden soils generally alternate with Methwold and Worlington series. The contrast between the naturally acid Worlington soils and the calcareous Methwold series is commonly masked by the widespread heavy dressings of chalk and marl applied over the centuries which have possibly stablilized Methwold soils and prevented further decalcification. In the centre of each dry valley there is commonly a narrow strip of stony Newport soils.

Soil Water Regime

The soils of this association are permeable and well-drained (Wetness Class I). Winter rainfall is readily absorbed. Although deep, the sandy Worlington soils are moderately droughty for most crops and very droughty for grass in normal years. Although Methwold soils are shallow they are less droughty as crops obtain some moisture from the chalky drift beneath.

Cropping and Land Use

In Eastern England Methwold and Worlington series are accessible throughout the greater part of the winter and the timing of cultivations is not critical as they can be cultivated a day or two after heavy rain. Ploughing and seed bed preparation is possible in one day. They are, however, weakly structured and the topsoil packs down and caps after heavy rain. In dry conditions, seed beds are blown away by strong winds. Direct drilling is of little benefit, cereals generally yielding better with traditional cultivation especially spring-sown varieties. Worlington soils need regular liming but uniform soil reaction within a field is difficult to achieve because of the complicated soil patterns. Even though these soils provide some of the best agricultural land in Breckland, crop yields are small. Barley and sugar beet are the main crops. Roughly a third of the land is in coniferous woodland and there is some semi-natural bent-ling heath as at Grimes' Graves. Most of the woodland was planted by the Forestry Commission, mainly between 1922 and 1937. It consists of Scots and Corsican Pine with some broad-leaved trees in amenity belts. The forest is now mature and is being gradually felled and replanted with Corsican Pine which gives higher timber yields and is less susceptible than Scots Pine to attack and death from the root fungus, Fomes annosus, which is prevalent in the calcareous soils of the Methwold association. Because of this and lime-induced chlorosis timber yields are less than on nearby deep acid sandy Breckland soils.


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