Soil Site Reporter

Soil Associations


Soil and site characteristics
Well drained coarse loamy soils over rock. Some fine loamy soils with slowly permeable subsoils and slight seasonal waterlogging. Steep slopes locally.

Palaeozoic sandstone and shale
Cropping and Land Use
Stock rearing and dairying; some arable land and coniferous and deciduous woodland.

Component soil series

Subgroup Series name Percentage WRB 2006 link
5.41 RIVINGTON 50% Eutric Endoleptic Cambisols
6.11 WITHNELL 25% Chromic Mollic Endoleptic Umbrisols
5.42 HEAPEY 15% Eutric Endostagnic Endoskeletic Cambisols
Covers 990 km2 in England and Wales

Soilscapes Classification
Freely draining slightly acid loamy soils


Detailed Description

This association of loamy brown earths and brown podzolic soils over Palaeozoic, predominantly Carboniferous, sandstones and shales occurs on moderate to steep valley sides, hills and ridges throughout the Pennines and elsewhere in the Midlands, Wales and South West England. Elevations are mostly below 450 m O.D. Climate is cold and wet in the uplands but milder and drier in the foothills and lowlands. The two soils which dominate the association, the Rivington series, typical brown earths, and the Withnell series, typical brown podzolic soils, are both coarse loamy, well drained and overlie hard sandstone within 80 cm. The subsidiary fine loamy Heapey series, stagnogleyic brown earths, overlies shale and is occasionally waterlogged.

These soils are widespread on the Pennine slopes and foothills from Longridge Fell in Lancashire to Belper in Derbyshire. Elsewhere they are found in the Wyre Forest and along the Severn valley in south Shropshire and north Hereford and Worcester, and also on the Lancashire Plain where Carboniferous sandstones protrude through the drift north of Skelmersdale and around St Helens. Altitudes range from 15 m O.D. near Parbold, Lancashire to 400 m O.D. in the southern Peak District. The proportion of Withnell and Heapey series varies: Withnell series is more common above 200 m O.D. or on unimproved land while the presence of Heapey series is associated with the finer shaly beds which separate the sandstones. The Neath series occurs where fine loamy material occurs directly over sandstone while shallow Newtondale soils are common on convex or steep land, particularly in the Derwent valley. Podzols of the Belmontand Anglezarke series are found in a few localities above 250 m O.D. The soil pattern is different in the Wyre Forest where Papworth series is the main subsidiary soil in thin drift which has accumulated over clay or clay shale interbedded with the sandstones. Occasional Withnell profiles are found under long-term woodland and Heapey soils occur on silty shale and siltstone. Neath and Denbigh series on finer grained sandstones and Hodnet and Whimple series on reddish beds are minor constituents.

The association in Wales is over Cambrian Sandstones between Harlech and Barmouth, and lies mainly below 200 m O.D. The small amount of included wetter land usually has coarse loamy Arrow series, and where acid peat has accumulated, pockets of Floriston series.

The soils are most extensive on Devonian sandstones of the Hangman Grits on northern Exmoor and the Quantocks Hills near the Bristol Channel coast. They occur also on steep slopes inland up to about 450 m O.D. Rivington soils predominate with Withnell series a common associate in woodland. Other brown earths such as Neath series are scattered within the association. In Gloucestershire the association occurs locally on Coal Measures sandstones of the Forest of Dean and on the Silurian Huntley Hills Beds on May Hill. Here too wetter Heapey soils are found.

The Heapey series occupies only a small proportion of the association in Northern England, even though shale forms a large part of the Millstone Grit and Coal Measures rocks. This is because the shale beds either form shorter, steeper (greater than 7 degrees) slopes than the sandstone, or, on gentler slopes, they are buried by till or Head, giving rise to other soils. Coarse sandstones and grits are characterized by the sandy Bridgnorth series. Under rough, unimproved grassland, podzols such as the Anglezarke or Belmont series often occur. The shallow Newtondale series is found on slope crests and near rock exposures, with deeper, gleyed Melbourne and Arrow series on concave slopes or in Head.

Soil Water Regime

The major soils are well drained (Wetness Class I) but the Heapey series is seasonally waterlogged (Wetness Class III). Excess winter rainwater generally passes rapidly downwards through the permeable subsoil, although there is some run-off on steep slopes.

Cropping and Land Use

Most of the land on the Pennine slopes and foothills is under grass for the rearing of sheep and beef cattle, though there is some localized dairying. Where slopes are less than 8 degrees, the land is well suited to intensive pasture, grass yields being good in the moist climate. There is little risk of poaching on these coarse porous soils and reseeding is easy. Upper slopes, above 225 m O.D., are not used as intensively and have become dominated by Nardus and wavy hair-grass. The soils tend to become acid and require frequent liming to prevent the formation of an organic surface mat and subsequent reversion to moorland. There is some cereal growing on gentle slopes in the Matlock area, and seed potatoes are grown locally, as around Hayfield, to take advantage of the disease-free environment and the low risk of soil droughtiness. Opportunities for landwork exist in the autumn despite the high rainfall but erosion can be a serious problem on cultivated slopes, particularly those greater than 7 degrees. In Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester and around Skelmersdale and St Helens in Lancashire the land is lower (less than 150 m O.D.) than in the Pennines and, as a consequence, there is more cereal growing especially on the flatter ground. Opportunities for landwork are much greater along the Severn valley than in Derbyshire, particularly in spring. Available water in the Heapey series is greater than in the Rivington or Withnell series but the soils are moderately droughty for grass and slightly droughty for potatoes; however, the latter can be harvested without difficulty in a normal year. Deeply dissected land around the Dowles Brook, west of Kidderminster, is largely coverd by woodland of the Wyre Forest. It is managed in the main by the Forestry Commission though there are some large private plantations. A wide range of species are grown with hardwoods such as beech, oak (including Red oak) and sycamore, sometimes with a softwood nurse, Douglas fir in the case of beech. Stands of Scots pine, Sitka spruce and Hybrid larch yield well, Sitka spruce acting as a nurse for oak in some places. Corsican pine, western hemlock and Cupressus spp. are also grown.

On Exmoor and the Quantock Hills, maximum soil moisture deficits are generally less than 75 mm so grass grows well. In Gloucestershire, however, where rainfall is lower and soil moisture deficits exceed 100 mm, grass growth is seriously limited in summer by droughtiness. Here land use is varied with permanent and ley grassland, cereals and horticulture interspersed with woodland. Pasture on steep slopes is suited to only seasonal use with poaching risk higher than on flatter land. On Exmoor the association is largely under semi-natural vegetation, with some coastal woodland. Unenclosed land near the Bristol Channel affords poor grazing of bristle-agrostis grassland and dry western heath. On high moorland further inland, the soils are under either acid bent-fescue grassland of high rough grazing value or poorer heather moor, often with bracken and gorse.

In the South West the association is extensively wooded mostly as large coniferous plantations. Sitka spruce is commonly planted but yield have proved disappointingly low because of exposure or salt damage though there are few soil restrictions on tree establishment and growth. Other species, notably Douglas fir and Japanese larch, which have been planted on steep sheltered slopes more typical of the association, yield well.


Distribution Map

Note that the yellow shading represents a buffer to highlight the location of very small areas of the association.

Keys to component soil series


South Western Region


Northern Region

Typical Landscapes

South Western Region


Northern Region

All information Copyright, Cranfield University © 2024

Citation: To use information from this web resource in your work, please cite this as follows:
Cranfield University 2024. The Soils Guide. Available: Cranfield University, UK. Last accessed 15/07/2024

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