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Coastal soils

This page is no longer updated. The information presented here formed part of our previous areas of research. This has included research carried out on behalf of our research partners, commerical contracts and also the Scottish Goverment's Strategic research programme during the period 2011 - 2016.

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Photograph of typical coastal vegetation
A number of Scotland's rarer soils are found at or near the coast.

A number of Scotland's rarer soils are found at or near the coast. Perhaps the best known are the sandy soils of the machair of the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the west Highlands. The soils are calcareous - which in itself is very rare in Scotland - and they form the backbone of the crofting system, the diverse flora and associated bird life and the spectacular dune and machair systems in many areas.

Careful and traditional soil management on these vulnerable sandy soils, including shallow ploughing and the addition of seaweed as fertiliser and organic matter are key to the sustainable use of the machair. These soils are at risk from rising sea levels and the predicted increased storminess of future climates. The soils on the dune systems are particularly sandy and if the stabilising influence of the marram grass were to diminish, the soils would be very prone to wind erosion.

Similarly, sandy soils are found at a number of locations on the east coast of Scotland, but here the soils are much more acid. They are good examples of some of the hidden benefits and functions that soils provide society in that they are the home to some of the world's most famous golf courses including the old course at St Andrews. These areas are similarly threatened in the longer term by the impacts of climate change.

Other unique soils found at or near our coastlines are salt marshes, or in pedological terms, saline alluvial soils, and saline gleys where the wind driven salt spray has caused elevated levels of sodium in the upper soil horizons.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.