Soil scientists study soil quality and characteristics. They survey and map soils, and use their knowledge to advise on the best use of soil resources. Their work benefits areas such as agriculture, forestry, land and environmental management, waste disposal and civil engineering.
Video: - Lorna: Soil Scientist
As a Soil Scientist, you will use your skills and knowledge to help people make the best use of soils.
Soils are a vital resource, as you are essential for producing food, timber and fibres. Soil supports ecological habitats and biodiversity. It also supports all types of development, including houses, roads and industries. With a high demand for soil usage, it is essential that we know how best to use and protect soils.
You will study the distribution, qualities and characteristics of different soils by examining sites and taking samples for laboratory analysis, during fieldwork.
Laboratory work includes researching and designing experiments, and using statistics and computers to analyse the results. Soil Scientists can use computers to produce maps of soil distributions and models of the physical, chemical and biological processes within soils.
Your findings influence how people decide to use the land. For example, you write reports that assess the suitability of land for:
- civil engineering
- habitat management
- natural resource
- archaeological exploration
- waste management
In agriculture and horticulture, Soil Scientists assess the soil's potential for growing crops. You advise Farmers on issues such as crop nutrition, the use of fertilisers, and land management methods that minimise or prevent soil erosion. In this work, Soil Scientists also need to know about plant-soil relationships, so you can advise on which crops are best suited to particular soils.
You must understand the extent to which soils can accept and break down waste such as sewage, pesticides and refuse, to avoid environmental problems.
Some Soil Scientists study soil drainage, and suggest ways to prevent chemical 'run-off' into nearby rivers and lakes. Others test the effects and efficiency of products such as fertilisers and pesticides on the soil.
You can work as Soil Mapping Consultants. This involves assessing the soil's ability to support development, including Civil Engineering projects, and exploration sites such as mines and quarries.
Soil Scientists test and analyse the soil to make sure that it is safe and suitable for development. For example, you advise on the risks of mudslides and landslips, and any drainage problems that could affect the development or surrounding countryside.
Soil Scientists are very much involved in environmental issues, tackling problems such as the acidification of soils and their pollution by chemicals and heavy metals. Soil management is increasingly important to slow down the release of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere, as this can increase the rate of global warming.
You also advise local authorities on the suitability of landfill sites for waste disposal, and tackle the environmental issues surrounding abandoned mines and quarries. For example, polluted water from abandoned mines can more easily seep into some soil types than others.
You often have to travel to carry out your work, both nationally and internationally. Soil Scientists who work for international organisations might have the opportunity to travel to other countries, for example, advising on soil use and protection in developing countries.
Soil Science is made up of several areas, including soil physics, chemistry, biology and mineralogy. You must have broad knowledge of all these areas, although they can specialise in one or two categories. Many Soil Scientists work in interdisciplinary teams, studying broad environmental issues.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Soil Scientist, you should have:
- detailed knowledge of the chemical, physical and biological nature of soil
- an interest in environmental issues
- a flexible and enquiring mind, with good problem-solving skills
- computer skills to produce reports, maps and models
- the ability to explain your findings clearly and concisely, including to people who may not have a scientific background (such as Farmers and Local Authority Officers)
- an enjoyment of fieldwork, including working on your own
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £27,500 - £30,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £41,000
- Senior Soil Scientists earn £44,500 - £50,000
Hours of work
Soil Scientists usually work 39 hours a week but you can work longer hours when carrying out fieldwork.
Where could I work?
Employers include Local Authorities and commercial firms in:
- soil surveying
- land management
- environmental assessment
ADAS employs Soil Scientists as consultants in land management and waste disposal.
There can be research opportunities, for example, with The National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI) at Cranfield University, the James Hutton Institute, universities, and agricultural and technical colleges.
Opportunities for Soil Scientists occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK.
There are opportunities for Soil Scientists in consultancy firms to work on UK-based and international projects involving soil assessment and evaluation.
Soil Scientists can become self-employed consultants.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in science magazines and journals such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards (for example, for academic, environmental and land management careers) and in national newspapers.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
The direct route to employment is a degree in soil science, or one that includes a substantial element of soil science.
A specialist degree in plant and soil science is available at the University of Aberdeen. The Royal Agricultural University runs a degree in agriculture (sustainable soil management).
On its website, the British Society of Soil Science has a list of other degree courses that include a soil science content.
The alternative route is to take a degree in a related subject, followed by a postgraduate qualification in soil science. There are a small number of specialist postgraduate courses.
Entry to postgraduate research is usually with a first (undergraduate) degree in a subject such as:
- botany / plant science
- environmental science
- physical geography
Some universities offer first degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
A small number of universities offer integrated science degrees (ISciences), aiming to give graduates interdisciplinary skills and knowledge through a problem-based approach.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
Training is usually on-the-job, for example, in particular lab procedures or specialist equipment. Continuing professional development could be through short courses and by going to conferences, seminars and workshops.
Previous experience working in a science environment - perhaps working in a laboratory or have you got experience in biology?
This depends on where you work. In a larger commercial company or research institute, you might progress to a supervisory or management role.
University Lecturers can progress to Senior Lecturer and reader posts or head of department positions.
Experienced Soil Scientists can become self-employed consultants. Some Soil Scientists write for science journals and farming magazines. Others go into sales and marketing for agricultural and agrochemical products.
For entry to a soil science degree, the usual requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including at least one science subject
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including English and maths
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check prospectuses carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
- 6% of people in occupations such as soil scientist work part-time.
- 14% have flexible hours.
- 8% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Skills for land-based and environmental industries
Address: Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 02476 696996
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Institute of Horticulture (IoH)
Tel: 01992 707025
Tel: 0845 7078007
Address: Foundry House, 3 Millsands, Riverside Exchange, Sheffield S3 8NH
Tel: 0845 6003078
Countryside Jobs Service (CJS)
Address: The Moorlands, Goathland, Whitby, North Yorkshire YO22 5LZ
Tel: 01947 896007
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM)
Address: 15 John Street, London WC1N 2EB
Tel: 020 7831 3110
Countryside Management Association (CMA)
Address: Writtle College, Lordship Road, Writtle, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 3RR
Tel: 01245 424116
Natural Resources Wales
Address: Ty Cambria, 29 Newport Road, Cardiff CF24 0TP
Tel: 0300 0653000
Tel: 0207 997 7624
Address: Pendeford House, Pendeford Business Park, Wobaston Road, Pendeford, Wolverhampton WV9 5AP
Tel: 0845 7660085
British Society of Soil Science (BSSS)
James Hutton Institute
Address: Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Tel: 0844 9285428
National Soil Resources Institute
Address: Cranfield University, College Road, Cranfield, Bedfordshire MK43 0AL
Tel: 01234 754086
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales