British Standards Relevant to Agriculture

British Standard Summaries

BS3882: 1994
Specification for Topsoil

The text herein is not a a full reproduction of the British Standard. It is summary based upon interpretation of the original text and not intended as a replacement for the full text. It should be used for general guidance only.


Naturally occurring topsoil is the dynamic product of chemical, physical and biological processes. The properties of a topsoil may change if one of many factors changes. The subsoil is an important medium for root growth since it provides reserves of water and nutrients and mechanical anchorage. This British Standard specifies requirements for topsoils. It establishes three grades of material and gives recommendations for the use and handling of topsoil.

  • Annex A of the full Standard provides details of sampling methods and sample preparation
  • Annex B of the full Standard provides details on the determination of nitrogen content
  • Annex C of the full Standard provides details on the determination of phosphate content
  • Annex D explains the methods used for the extraction of exchangeable cations in the soil
  • Annex E explains the methods used for determining the extractable potassium content of  the soil
  • Annex F explains the methods used for determining the extractable calcium content of  the soil
  • Annex G explains the methods used for determining the extractable magnesium content of  the soil
  • Annex H & J deal with the sodium content of  the soil
  • Annex K - soil texture
  • Additional annexes cover other charactistics of the soil and their determination.


a) Premium grade - Premium grade is natural topsoil. It is of high intrinsic fertility, loamy texture and good structure. It has the capacity, if correctly handled and and within the correct environment is capable of supporting the growth of most plants. Premium grade is generally the most limited in supply.

b) General purpose grade - This includes natural topsoil and premium grade topsoil that has deteriorated. This grade of topsoil has the capacity, if correctly handled and in the correct environment, to be suitable for good quality agriculture, silviculture, amenity, horticulture and landscape sites supporting many types of planting. It may require improvement by lime and/or fertilizer treatment.

c) Economy grade - This is derived from a topsoil of lower quality than other grades. It is divided into materials of “low clay” and “high clay” subgrades. This material is suitable for amenity woodland, wildlife conservation areas, less intensively used or low productivity grassland and agriculture.


  • The content of N, P, K and Mg should be specified as a dimensionless index.
  • Soil should be free of weeds and foreign matter.
  • Documentation declaring soil analysis and soil characteristics should be provided to the user.
  • The full standard includes the soil texture diagram.

A British Standard nor this summary does not, necessarily, include all the necessary information for correct implementation of the Standard to any specific application. This is purely the responsibility of the user. Standards are updated by either amendment or revision. Users should ensure that they are using the latest version.

The full text of this Standard can be obtained from the British Standard Institution

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011