Soils Fieldwork in Dunoon and Glensaugh – a pedological and mapping perspective

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the odd few days out in the field learning a lot about soils in the landscape. In this blog post, I will explain my experiences and time I spent out in the field at Glensaugh Research Station near The James Hutton Institute site in Aberdeen and in Dunoon with colleagues from the Hutton doing work with Forestry Commission.

At the beginning of the month, I was involved in setting up along with my supervisor Allan Lilly and course tutors Willie Towers, Bob Jones and John Hollis, two large soil pits for the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS) course ‘An Introduction to Soil Classification‘.


3 of the 4 Soil scientists out in the field with me in Glensaugh: Bob, John and Allan

One of the soil pits was dug in a cultivated area of land and the other was dug in an uncultivated area to showcase the differences that similar soil types can be in in terms of the land cover present. Both of the soils were podsols in nature and we described them in as much detail as possible. It was great to be involved in something like this and I tried to utilize over 120 years accumulated experience between Allan, Willie, John and Bob! I got some experience of identifying soil colour using the Munsell colour chart and was involved in a lot of the discussions about what characteristics the soil layers had in terms of texture, stoniness and other useful descriptions. I was also brought along to do most of the digging but I have to say I disappointed myself as to how bad I was at it and how easily tired I got! Nevertheless, this experience was rewarding and slightly different to what I was doing in Dunoon. The work I was doing in Glensaugh was very much a pedometric view of explaining the features of the soil whereas in Dunoon it was very much a soil mapping exercise for Forestry Commission Scotland.

Soil pit

An idea as to the soil pits we saw and investigated in Glensaugh, I liked the black tape measure that Allan had that we used to measure the soil horizon depths. Very user friendly.

Last week, I was out doing some soil mapping fieldwork down in South West Scotland at a site near the town of Dunoon in Invernoaden, overlooking the beautiful Loch Eck. This was another one of these short one week field trips where I have gone out with colleagues from The James Hutton Institute to learn a bit more about the soils in the landscape and their interactions with other environmental variables such as climate, land cover and underlying geology.

Loch Eck

View of Loch Eck overlooking some of the landscape we were mapping. Acknowledgement to Richard Hewison for the picture.

Myself and colleague Andrew Nolan left the Institute on the Monday morning and set off on our journey down the West coast to the Forestry Commission site where we were due to be doing fieldwork for the coming week. We decided to get on with a half day’s fieldwork when we got to our destination so that we could best utilise the time that I had down there with my colleagues and to give myself a flavour of the soil we would be encountering during the week. Once we got going, it was quickly clear to me that we were going to be entertained by some friends this week. The midges were out in force! Luckily, I took plenty of insect repellent with me which was fine as they really annoyed the hell out of me all week!!

Fieldwork 3

Myself and my colleague Luke Beesley who was out with us doing fieldwork. Luke was going to extreme lengths to make sure the midges didn’t annoy him and his mapping of soils!

Forestry Commission as part of our exercise provide a key that they use in terms of how they map soils and code them so they can be used for modelling purposes later on. Each of the major soil types gets given a Group number and from this group number, they are given a soil code in terms of the characteristics that match that soil type. In addition, some soil types can also be given phase codes.

We started working away and found a large variety of soils ranging from brown earths,podzols and even some sections of peat! You also see some interesting things when you are out doing fieldwork. For instance, the first day, Andrew and I stumbled across a beautiful ‘Chicken of the woods’ fungi or Laetiporus sulphurous for the Latinists among us!


‘Chicken of the woods’ fungi. Thanks to colleagues at the Hutton who identified this for us. Picture doesn’t give it justice unfortunately. The joys of a camera phone!

You may remember from a previous blog post that I got stuck in a peat bog. Well, lightning did strike twice as once again, I fell into a peat bog on Day 2 when I was out doing some work with Richard Hewison. Luckily, I managed to get myself out this time without someone having to pull me out. I obviously have the touch of an elephant – something I need to work on. The good news though was because of the humid conditions, my wet and muddy trousers and boots dried very quickly! The pair of us waded through some dense sitka spruce, bracken and plenty of really tough terrain that day. I have to admit I was absolutely knackered by 4pm on that day!

The final day saw me back with Andrew and we did some of the lower section of the landscape deep into the forests. Again, however, it did involve us going up some pretty steep slopes towards the finish. I’ve never experience the amount of bracken and midges about like that before! By this final day I was delighted to be heading home. It was yet another experience that I enjoyed though and I would recommend once again to all PhD students that you cannot beat fieldwork experience to see what your are modelling or mapping out in the landscape. You appreciate, more than anything, the level and number of factors that might have an impact on what soils you see in the landscape.

Fieldwork 1

The author doing some digging.

Author: Grant Campbell

Twitter: @Stato_Grant