Reducing soil compaction of brownfield sites

What are the best options for planting trees on brownfield sites with compacted soil?


Brownfield sites typically suffer from soil compaction. The processes involved in the remediation and reclamation of brownfield sites can also lead to soil compaction where best practice is not followed. Soil compaction inhibits plant growth as their roots struggle to take up water and nutrients. Poor root development also increases the risk of strong winds uprooting trees. Forest Research tested a range of cultivation methods to maximise the soil depth available for planting. Measurements of tree health and soil properties over five years showed that complete cultivation is the most effective method to alleviate compactions.

Key findings and outputs

  • A model to predict the critical penetration resistance value at which plant rooting will be significantly affected
  • Comparison of two methods for measuring penetration resistance: the penetrometer and the ‘lifting driving tool
  • The ‘lifting driving tool’ is the most cost effective and user-friendly method to assess soil compaction
  • No benefit from post-planting soil loosening – use of industrial ‘rippers’ after cultivation makes no significant improvement to soil penetration resistance or tree health
  • Complete cultivation recommended – soil compaction best alleviated with complete cultivation to a depth of 1.1m


  • Sinnett, D., Poole, J. and Hutchings, T.R.  (2006). The efficacy of three techniques to alleviate soil compaction at a restored sand and gravel quarry.  Soil Use and Management 22: 362-371.
  • Sinnett, D. (2008). Complete Cultivation. Best Practice Guidance Note for Land Regeneration No. 13: Forest Research, Farnham.
  • Sinnett, D., Poole, J. and Hutchings, T.R. (2008). Comparison of cultivation techniques for successful tree establishment. Forestry 81(5): 663-679.
  • Sinnett, D., Morgan, G., Williams, M. and Hutchings, T.R. (2008). The relationship between penetration resistance and tree root development. Soil Use and Management 24: 273-280

Funding and partners 

Commissioned and funded by the Forestry Commission




Kieron Doick