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Soil Science

This programme provides a range of activities to enable students to explore soil, its importance to plants and wildlife, and its local and global significance.  It provides a general introduction that could be followed up with further work on soil sampling and pH testing.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the programme students will be able to:

  • Name the different components of soil
  • Identify a range of differences between soils including particle size, parent rock and pH
  • Suggest reasons why soil is important to plants, wildlife and people


Words and phrases related to:

  • soil composition – parent rock, organic matter, humus, air, water, organisms, nutrients, minerals
  • soil processes – weathering, leaching, retention, decomposition, invertebrates, fungi, bacteria, carbon store
  • differences in soil – particle size, sand, silt, clay, pH, alkalinity, acidity, depth 

Programme details

Learning objectives


To welcome students to Westonbirt and provide overview of programme

  • Introduction to Westonbirt - its history and Management
  • What is soil?  Why is it important?  What impact has it had on Westonbirt?

To know that different soil types affect which plant species can grow

Exploring the impact of soil on the collection

  • Identifying different trees and plants and relates to soil type

To understand that without soil there could be no terrestrial life

Plant needs game and scenarios

  • Could there be life without soil?
  • What do plants need to grow?
  • Exploring the role of soil in provision of key elements: water / nutrients
  • Discussing soil scenarios that would affect plant growth and health

To investigate the significance of particle size on water and nutrient retention

Mucky hand test

  • Exploring the size of rock particles in soil will how this affects water and nutrient content
  • Testing the soil to determine soil particle type and describe soil quality relating to water and nutrient levels

To explore the origin of soil nutrients

To introduce the importance of soil as a carbon store

Soil soup

  • In small groups students make a sample of soil by collecting different ingredients.
  • Discussing the importance of organic matter in providing nutrients, improving soil structure and as a carbon store.

To consider the role of invertebrates, fungi and bacteria in creating soil

Soil invertebrate hunt

  • Searching amongst leaf litter and under logs for invertebrates, and fungi hyphae

To explore the relationship between soil and trees at Westonbirt

Exploration of Westonbirt’s Trees

  • Birch – mycorrhizal relationships
  • Pine needles – soil fertility
  • Grandfather oak – root networks
  • Coast redwood – adaptation to soil conditions – a fog belt giant

To discuss knowledge about soil


  • Questions and sharing learning – soil facts
  • What next? What further questions do the students have?

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.