Soil Site Reporter

Soil Associations


Soil and site characteristics
Well drained sandy soils with a bleached subsurface horizon sometimes over soft rock, mainly on heaths and often very acid. Well drained sandy and coarse loamy soils on farmland.

Cretaceous and Tertiary sand
Cropping and Land Use
Dry lowland heath and deciduous woodland habitats, coniferous woodland; recreation.

Component soil series

Subgroup Series name Percentage WRB 2006 link
6.31 SHIRRELL HEATH 50% Albic Podzols
6.31 DELAMERE 20% Endoleptic Albic Podzols
5.54 FRILFORD 15% Arenic Luvisols
5.71 FYFIELD 15% Chromic Luvisols
Covers 306 km2 in England and Wales

Soilscapes Classification
Freely draining very acid sandy and loamy soils


Detailed Description

This association is most extensive on the high, wooded deeply-dissected western end of the Lower Greensand outcrop south of Hindhead, chiefly on sandy Hythe Beds. It is also widespread on the dipslope of the Hythe Beds between Guildford and Dorking. Other occurrences are on the sandy Folkestone Beds between Farnham and Dorking, under dry heathland, woodland and scrub on Bagshot Beds in Hampshire near Romsey and Fareham, and over Blackheath and Woolwich Beds south of London. Humo-ferric podzols predominate, most belonging to Shirrell Heath series over sand or soft sandstone at depth. The similar Delamere soils with rock at moderate depth are common associates on steep upper slopes and crests, particularly over Hythe Beds. Frilford soils, argillic brown sands, are also common under semi-natural vegetation, but are more usually found, with Fyfield soils, typical argillic brown earths, under farmland.

Coarse loamy Anglezarke soils are locally common on ridge and hill summits over Hythe Beds, and similar ferric podzols and other podzolic soils also occur, as near Leith Hill. Sandy and coarse loamy paleo-argillic soils are found on patches of sandy Angular Chert Drift scattered on plateaux and ridge tops near Grayshott. Along the narrow floors of some steep-sided valleys, like the Devil's Punch Bowl near Hindhead, wet sandy Isleham and coarse loamy Fordham series, are associated with occasional peat soils in small valley mires. Fernhill soils are locally widespread on farmland over coarse-grained and ferruginous Folkestone Beds sands. On low hills near Albury there are river terrace deposits in which Redlodge soils are developed.

In Hampshire, soil distribution on the Bagshot Beds reflects the changes in substrate lithology that these beds display over short distances. Shirrell Heath soils are dominant, but the most common associates are Ellingham and Bursledon soils; Kings Newton and Wickham soils are also present. South of London, pebbly Anglezarke soils are common under semi-natural vegetation on Blackheath and Woolwich Beds together with some wetter Holidays Hill soils. Bursledon and seasonally waterlogged Curdridge soils occur mainly on farmland and where fine-textured strata are present.

Soil Water Regime

The main soils are permeable and well drained (Wetness Class I) so readily accept winter rain. Prolonged heavy rain can cause erosion on steep slopes where well-trodden paths or tracks break the vegetation cover.

Cropping and Land Use

Shirrell Heath soils have small reserves of available water, low base status and are strongly acid. Because they are ill-suited to agriculture there is much semi-natural woodland, heathland and scrub. The small areas of farmland are chiefly on Frilford and Fyfield soils. Cereals and grass are the main crops, but yields are restricted by drought in most years.

The podzols and their heathland vegetation developed during early forest clearance in the Bronze Age or, locally, in Mesolithic times. Extensive tracts of mature heathland dominated by ling (Calluna vulgaris), bell-heather (Erica cinerea), gorse and dwarf furze (Ulex europaeus and U. minor) occur on Bramshott and Ludshott Commons in Hampshire and on Iping Common near Midhurst, Sussex. Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) is often extensive and occurs on soils with higher nutrient status usually where excessive burning has excluded heather. Small areas of humid heathland with cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), are widespread and in places wet heathland and mire with bog moss (Sphagnum spp), cotton-grasses (Eriophorum spp.), sundews (Drosera spp.), heath rush (Juncus squarrosus) and deer-grass (Trichophorum cespitosum) have developed. Because these heathlands are scarce and support a wide range of invertebrates and a number of rare vertebrates, including the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) and nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), many are protected as nature reserves. Unmanaged heathland is soon invaded by birch, Scots pine and pedunculate oak. At Leith Hill, Scots pine and birch occur on the dipslope with beech on valley sides and alder, birch and pedunculate oak on damper valley bottoms. Hornbeam and whitebeam are present in mixed woodland in the Devil's Punch Bowl. The public have access to much land with semi-natural vegetation and many areas are popular for walking because the ground is dry for most of the year.

Shirrell Heath and Delamere soils have pans or bedrock at shallow depth which restrict root penetration, and small water holding capacity making them particularly droughty. These limitations and the low reserves of calcium, potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen and general acidity, severely restricts the choice of suitable forest treesto Scots and Corsican pine and western hemlock. Growth of oak is poor. Before planting, tine ploughing helps to destroy ericaceous weeds on heathland, mix mineral horizons and break subsurface pans to ensure deeper rooting. Frilford soils are also droughty and nutrient deficient but trees can root more deeply. All the soils benefit from dressings of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. Fyfield, Ellingham and Bursledon soils are more widely suited and, as well as the pines, Douglas fir, Norway spruce, larch and western red cedar are grown. They are also much better suited to oak, beech and sweet chestnut.


Typical Landscapes

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Citation: To use information from this web resource in your work, please cite this as follows:
Cranfield University 2022. The Soils Guide. Available: Cranfield University, UK. Last accessed 14/08/2022

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