South West Soil Discussion Group

South West Soil Discussion Group

The South West England Soils Discussion Group (SWESDiG) was set up in 1975 to stimulate interest in the study of soils in the Region, and provide a means whereby individuals from different institutions and fields of activity can meet to discuss problems and topics of common interest.Membership of the group is free. Meetings are organised on an ad hoc basis on selected themes relevant to the wider study of soils, land use and the environment in the South West.

Group Chair: Dr Martin Blackwell

Group Secretary: Dr Rob Parkinson

Contact SWESDiG

Latest posts

BBC Farming Today - Can you help?

Heather Simons, Producer of BBC Radio's "Farming Today" is looking for a location to record a 30 minute radio programme about soil. The scheduled recording date is Friday 8th March 2019 and as the team are based at BBC Bristol they are looking for a location ideally no more than two hours away from there.

Heather is looking for either a farm or a research site where is something they can see that is being done to improve soils.

The recording would take a maximum of 2 hours.

If you can help then Heather can be contacted on 07814 780987

Agricultural Land Classification Course 2019

Event date: 
Wednesday, November 20, 2019 to Thursday, November 21, 2019
Event venue: 
Arden Hotel, Coventry Road, Bickenhill, Solihull B92 0EH, United Kingdom
Event description: 

Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) has a formal role in the planning system in England and Wales and is designed to prevent the loss of our best and most versatile land in line with the principles of sustainable development.

This training course, designed and presented by agricultural land classification (ALC) experts from Natural England and the Welsh Government, offers a unique opportunity to learn about the background and technical basis of the current ALC guidelines.

By the end of the two day course you will learn:

  • about how the ALC system has developed over time, its underlying principles and its role within the planning system - the WHAT, WHY and WHEN of ALC
  • all the details of how land is graded - the HOW of ALC
  • what a report should contain in order to be verified by the Natural England and Welsh Government statutory consultees on planning applications involving soils and agriculture
  • how to present ALC results as an expert witness

As well as taught sessions, you will carry out a group ALC grading desk exercise to apply what you have learned.

The course is designed for:

  • soil scientists who wish to extend their experience to (or refresh an existing awareness of) Agricultural Land Classification,
  • those commissioning ALC surveys from specialists, and
  • planners reviewing ALC reports.

Completion of the course is not a certificate of competence to undertake ALC surveys.  Competence in undertaking ALC surveys, as described in Working with Soil Document 2 (below), will require subsequent relevant survey experience. 

For non soil specialists, prior or subsequent attendance on Working with Soil course Exposing and Describing a Soil Profile or an equivalent course, is strongly recommended to enable you to get the most out of this course.

The two-day ALC course will take place at The Arden Hotel in Solihull, close to the NEC. Please note overnight accommodation is not included.

This course qualifies for CPD points for professional practice schemes. BASIS CPD has been awarded at a total of 10 points (6 Environment + 4 Personal Development)


Please read our Event Cancellation Policy carefully - see below.


ENGAGING WITH ALL – Soils through the National Nature Reserves

Event date: 
Thursday, March 28, 2019
Event venue: 
Cotswold Beechwoods and Commons National Nature Reserve,The Old Ebworth Centre, Stroud, GL6 7ES, United Kingdom
Event description: 

South West Soils Discussion Group - Spring Meeting Thursday 28th March 2019

Ahead of the World Congress of Soil Science in 2022 the British Society of Soil Science is keen to increase awareness of soils and engage with the general public. 

National Nature Reserves (NNRs) were established to protect some of our most important habitats, species and geology, and to provide ‘outdoor laboratories’ for research. There are currently 224 NNRs in England with a total area of over 94,400 hectares - approximately 0.7% of the country’s land surface. Natural England manages about two thirds of England’s NNRs.

Most NNRs offer great opportunities to schools, specialist interest groups and the public to experience wildlife at first hand and to learn more about nature conservation.  There is an opportunity for the Society to work with NNRs to offer a variety of soil experiences tailored to each NNR to raise awareness of soils, their functions importance and story in the landscape.  This meeting will build on discussions held at the 2012 SWESDG Soils, Geodiversity and Soils Educational Networks meeting.  It will consider existing soil experiences, issues faced and discuss innovative opportunities using the NNR estate.

4 BASIS CPD points have been awarded: 3 - Environment, 1 Personal Development


10.00  Welcome and coffee

10.15 Introduction (Gill Shaw, Natural England)

10.30 NNRs – what they are and how they are used (Ben Le Bas, Natural England)

11.00 Drivers for public engagement: World Congress of Soil Science (Ian Rugg, Welsh Government)

11.20 Hands on public engagement: examples from Open Farm Sunday (Tegan Darch, Rothamsted Research)

11.40 Soils around Haytor and Yarner - a self-guided trail (Rob Parkinson)

12.00 Soil exposures: why bother? (Tim Harrod)

12.20 Group discussion

12.40 Lunch

1.30 Field visit briefing by Kate Gamez, NNR Reserve Manager followed by visit to contrasting sites on the Reserve *

* Please bring suitable protective clothing and footwear for the afternoon

3.30 Back for final discussion

4.00pm Close

Cost - includes lunch and refreshments:

£10  -  BSSS Members

£15  - Student NON-Members - proof of current student status will be required

£30  - NON-Members

All attendees must register in advance as we need to have accurate numbers for catering and seating.


SWSDG Spring Meeting - Soil Erosion

Event date: 
Thursday, May 23, 2019
Event venue: 
Plymouth University, Portland Square Building, Devonport Lecture Theatre, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, United Kingdom
Event description: 

Above image attribution: Cranfield University, Parrott Catchment, Somerset

South West Soils Discussion Group Spring Meeting - Soil Erosion

The challenges of soil erosion are experienced throughout the South West of England, but we are not unique in these challenges. The aim of this meeting is to explore and discuss:

  • Why soils erode
  • How to keep our soils on the fields
  • How to repair soil damage
  • The future of soil management in the South West and beyond

This event offers the opportunity to find out from regulators, advisors and academics what the issues are and current thinking on best practices for soil erosion management.

The purpose of the event is to bring people together to discuss the impacts of soil erosion and its mitigation from different perspectives.

Confirmed speakers at the event include: 

  • Dr Richard Smith - Environment Agency
  • Dr Bob Evans - Anglia Ruskin University
  • Professor Will Blake - University of Plymouth 
  • Dr Laurence Couldrick - Westcountry Rivers Trust
  • Dr Claire Kelly - University of Plymouth
  • Dr Kate Smith (ADAS)

Collectively covering soil erosion topics from Devon and Cornwall through Latin America and Africa!

We are planning the day to include time for debate and discussion and hope to engage farmers, land managers, advisors, and academics

5 CPD points have been awarded by BASIS: 1 Crop Protection / 3 Environment / 1 Personal Development 


Cost - includes lunch and refreshments:

£10 for Members 

£15 for Student NON-Members

£15 for RGS Members

£30 for Non-Members

Important: All attendees must register in advance as we need to have accurate numbers for catering and seating.

Online Registration is not available.    



Upcoming Soil Erosion event in Plymouth

The South West Soils Discussion Group would like to invite you to our Spring Event focused on Soil Erosion.

This event will be a great opportunity to bring custodians of the land and researchers of soil together from across the South West to discuss:
- Why soils erode,
- How to keep our soils on the fields,
- How to repair soil damage,
- The future of soil management in the South West and beyond.

Plymouth University soils event 24th January

Dear all,

We have just received details of a 'Healthy Landscapes' event being held by University of Plymouth on 24th January. The agenda looks interesting, with a variety of topics covered, all with a real-world view focussing on soils.

If you would like to attend, you need to sign up; details of the event and how to do so can be found here:

Hannah and the SWSDG committee

SWSDG Social Event

Event date: 
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Event venue: 
Hullavington Arms, The Street, Hullavington, Wiltshire SN14 6DU United Kingdom
Event description: 

Join us for an informal get together after work, to get to know other members, share how we use soils in our day jobs and have a game of skittles.  The bar will be open to buy drinks and food.

Wednesday 30th January 2019 between 6pm and 8pm at the Hullavington Arms, The Street, Hullavington, Wiltshire SN14 6DU close to J17 M4. 

It would be good to know how many are joining us for skittles and to warn the pub of numbers, so please let Gill Shaw know by 23rd January 2019  

ECR Conference 2019

We are delighted to invite all BSSS Early Career Members to the 2019 ECR Conference which will be held at The Edge, University of Sheffield on 16th-17th April 2019. Registration is now open! The deadline to register is 27th January 2019.