Soil Erosion: An Advisory Booklet for the Management of Agricultural Land (PB3280)


Soil erosion is caused by the action of water, wind, grazing animals and human activity. It can affect the profitability of farm businesses, damage the environment and cause a public nuisance.

Erosion has increased in recent years. Problems can occur almost anywhere but the main lowland areas at risk are shown on the map opposite. Problems are likely to increase if cropping and rainfall patterns alter due to climate change.

Action now can protect the long-term productivity of your most valuable asset your soil.

Care is needed to maintain soils in a fertile condition and to prevent or minimise the economic and environmental impacts of erosion. Losses of soil from the land may appear small in an agricultural context but, when redeposited, they can cause  serious damage to rivers, lakes and coastal waters and on neighbouring land. This damage is increasingly unacceptable to affected people and the public in general.

The 19th report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on Sustainable Use of Soil (published in 1996) drew attention to the erosion of agricultural soils.

While the Commission acknowledged that the major effects are localised and do not damage agricultural productivity in the UK as much as other countries, it expressed particular concern about damage to the off-farm environment.

Farmers, growers and landowners in the United Kingdom are fortunate that erosion tends to be localised or site-specific rather than the large-scale problem experienced in many parts of the world.

However, erosion of agricultural land is more widespread in this country than is commonly thought and the impact of climate change may increase problems in the future. Although the nature of climate change is not yet certain, it is likely that spells of severe rainfall will become more common.

Areas most at risk from erosion

Water erosion

Sandy soils in South West and South East England, East Anglia, the Midlands and South Wales

Chalky soils on the South Downs, Wolds and in East Anglia

(Uplands and woodlands not shown here)

Wind erosion

Bare sandy and peaty soils between March and June in East Midlands, Vale of York and East Anglia

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