All information Copyright, Cranfield University © 2017

Citation: To use information from this web resource in your work, please cite this as follows:
Cranfield University 2017. The Soils Guide. Available: www.landis.org.uk. Cranfield University, UK. Last accessed 19/10/2017

0851b DOWNHOLLAND 2

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Soil and site characteristics

Deep stoneless clayey or calcareous silty soils, mainly with a humose surface horizon. Flat land. Groundwater controlled by ditches and pumps.

Geology

Marine alluvium

Cropping and Land Use

Cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, field vegetables and horticultural crops in the Fens and Lancashire; some grassland in Lancashire and Cumbria.

Component soil series

Subgroup Series name Percentage WRB 2006 link
8.51 DOWNHOLLAND 40% Clayic Fluvic Mollic Gleysols
8.52 CHATTERIS 20% Fluvic Calcaric Mollic Gleysols
8.12 WISBECH 10% Fluvic Calcaric Gleysols

Covers 258 km2 in England and Wales

Soilscapes Classification

23
Loamy and sandy soils with naturally high groundwater and a peaty surface

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0851b DOWNHOLLAND 2

Detailed Description

This association covers 250 km² of flat land generally below 10 m O.D. in the Lincolnshire fenlands, along the Lancashire coastal plain and in the estuaries of southern Cumbria. It consists of deep, stoneless soils developed in marine alluvium, often with humose or thin peaty topsoils. The alluvium is generally silty clay but ranges from silt loam to clay. The association is dominated by the clayey non-calcareous greyish Downholland series, typical humic alluvial gley soils. The humose surface horizons, characteristic of many soils of this association, are the remnants of peat that formed under freshwater conditions, following regression of the sea. Peat wastage has resulted from either shrinkage and oxidation after drainage and cultivation or cutting for fuel. The greyish silty Chatteris series, calcareous humic alluvial gley soils, and Wisbech series, calcareous alluvial gley soils, are subordinate and found on ridges which stand above the more extensive Downholland series. They mark the courses of winding tidal creeks which crossed the former salt marshes in a dendritic pattern. The creek levees now stand above the marine clays due to exaggeration of former height differences after peat shrinkage. Remnants of the original peaty cover occur sporadically, giving Adventurers' soils. Where the peat cover has been completely removed, the Rockcliffe, Tanvats and Wallasea series are developed. The association is found along the Lancashire coastal plain from the river Alt near Formby to north of Carnforth and along the river Mersey in Cheshire. It is developed on Downholland Silt, a bluish grey marine alluvium found on raised beaches a few metres above sea level. The Downholland Silt includes both calcareous and non-calcareous types although around Morecambe Bay it is dominantly non-calcareous.

The association is extensive between Preesall and Heysham where these soils are locally known as skirt soils. This is because they occur where the Downholland silt has been exposed at the surface skirting the peat soils of Pilling and Cockerham Mosses as a result of peat cutting and of shrinkage following cultivation. On the Fylde, Downholland Silt, overlain by peat, occurs between ridges of till. Where the peat cover has been winnowed away, as at Marton Moss, Downholland soils are extensive. Along the southern bank of the Mersey thick clayey estuarine alluvium occurs locally on Frodsham, Helsby and Ince marshes and on Halton Moss. Although Downholland series predominate, the southern landward margin of the marshes is fringed with peat giving Ridley soils. The clay thickens northwards over the peat and Ridley soils progressively give way to Downholland soils through an intermediate zone of Midelney series where clay overlies peat at less than 80 cm depth.

The association is found in the broad Witham valley south-east of Lincoln and in East Fen near Stickney. In both places the soil pattern is complex but Downholland soils are dominant. In the Witham valley there is a wide stretch of mainly Chatteris and Wisbech soils that probably marks the former course of the river. West of Midville and locally elsewhere in East Fen, the alluvium is thin over slowly permeable loamy or clayey till. Some clayey soils especially in East Fen have accumulations of gypsum crystals and the yellowish mineral jarosite in the subsoil, features normally associated with very acid conditions. Clayey Eastville soils occur locally.

The soils occupy 69 km² in the Lyth Valley and the Duddon and Cartmel estuaries, south Cumbria. The principal soil is the Downholland series, developed in blue-grey clayey and fine silty alluvium. Whilst often calcareous at depth, soils in this deposit are not normally calcareous near the surface and the Chatteris series is uncommon. The Blankney series occurs very locally in the Lyth Valley. Sporadically overlying such heavy land, particularly near watercourses, are fine sandy or coarse silty estuarine deposits up to a metre thick on which has developed the Rockcliffe series. The Wisbech series is most common on calcareous recent coarser alluvium at the seaward edges of the association. Where such deposits are not calcareous, the Rockcliffe and, rarely, Tanvats series, again occur. Much of the land was once covered by peat which has either wasted or has been cut for fuel, leaving mineral soils with humose topsoils. Remnants of peat occasionally occur as islands surrounded by Downholland series.

Soil Water Regime

These soils vary widely in water regime depending upon the type and extent of artificial drainage (Wetness Class I to V). In the early stages of their reclamation many were waterlogged for long periods during the growing season (Wetness Class V). Where a pumped drainage scheme is installed, the soils are well drained or only waterlogged for short periods in winter (Wetness Class II). Elsewhere, winter waterlogging is more persistent (Wetness Class IV), but crops are seldom short of moisture in these water retentive soils. In Eastern England Water levels are generally effectively controlled by ditches and pumps and most of the soils are well drained or occasionally waterlogged (Wetness Class I or II). The subsoils are usually very porous with vertical channels formed by former reed vegetation but are less permeable where till occurs within 1 m depth. Most of the soils have large reserves of available water and are in the main non-droughty for the main arable crops, although Downholland soils are moderately droughty for potatoes.

Cropping and Land Use

Downholland soils are potentially very fertile and, where drained, are suited to arable cropping, but grassland predominates where pumped drainage has not been installed, for example around Heysham, Thurnham and south of Pilling. Here, where the land is utilized for dairy, beef and sheep enterprises, grass yields well, but the water retentive topsoils poach readily and the grazing season is restricted. In the Midlands, where drainage is uneconomic, the Adventurers' series is under semi-natural woodland. Great Marton Moss, south of Blackpool, is renowned for its intensive horticulture and flourishing glasshouse industry. Winter lettuce, tomatoes and chrysanthemums are the main crops. On Lytham Moss, although vegetables are grown, there are also cereals, dairying and sheep. Cropping around Great Altcar, near Formby, is very varied ranging from outdoor lettuce, celery and beetroot to cereals, potatoes and grassland. Where the topsoil is organic and pumped drainage is installed the timing of cultivations is flexible. In the Wisbech series, surface wetness makes spring cultivations difficult. A reasonable surface tilth is obtained with difficulty and Wisbech soils cap, especially where left fallow during wet periods. The proportion of Wisbech soils with mineral surface horizons is gradually increasing as the peaty topsoils of the Chatteris series waste away. Blowing often occurs in spring and early summer, when there is incomplete crop cover.

In Eastern England the soils are easy to work but those Downholland soils which now have only slightly humose plough layers after long arable use are easily compacted. Subsoiling is used to maintain continuous permeability from the plough layer to the porous subsoil. The complex pattern of humose clayey and silty soils causes difficulty in the timing of field operations and the correct use of fertilizers; lodging of cereals often occurs on the silty soils. The main crops are cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, peas and some field vegetables and there are normally ample opportunities for autumn and spring fieldwork with little risk of structural damage. Locally potatoes are irrigated. Large and regular applications of lime are needed to obtain satisfactory yields from soils with very acid subsoil layers.

In the North of England much of the alluvium has been reclaimed and drained although there are a number of saltmarshes. Drainage is achieved by tile drains and by open ditches with sluice gates at their outlets to the sea. Water backs up the ditches at high tides, causing drains to silt up. This may initiate localized flooding. To counter this in the Lyth valley, pumping stations have recently been installed to remove surplus water at such times. Arterial drainage networks in the valley are sophisticated and have been developed over a long period of time. They include a high-level system consisting of natural watercourses and catchment drains which intercept water from the surrounding uplands, and a low-level system which deals with groundwater and discharges through tidal sluice gates.

Heavier land throughout the association is almost entirely under permanent grass. The Downholland series and similar soils produce excellent crops of grass, even in the driest years, but have a considerable poaching risk. The climate is wet, with a field capacity period generally in excess of 225 days, confining use to summer months only in the absence of pumped drainage. In a wet year the soils remain almost entirely at field capacity throughout the summer. Livestock rearing and dairying are the principal farm enterprises but land use on the reclaimed sandier land is more varied. Here, whilst grass is still an extensive crop, barley, and to a lesser degree winter wheat, oats, potatoes, carrots, fodder and some horticultural crops, are grown on some farms.

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0851b DOWNHOLLAND 2

Typical Landscapes

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All information Copyright, Cranfield University © 2017

Citation: To use information from this web resource in your work, please cite this as follows:
Cranfield University 2017. The Soils Guide. Available: www.landis.org.uk. Cranfield University, UK. Last accessed 19/10/2017