Principles to improve soil health: Physical

Understanding soil textures and how to work the land while minimising damage to soil structure will ensure your soil stays in optimal condition.

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Action plan

Key principles for improving soil health:

  • Know soil textures and understand limits to workability and trafficability
  • Optimise water balance, through drainage (if necessary)
  • Minimise compaction and improve soil structure

Limits of soil texture

Topsoil and subsoil textures largely determine the limits to workability and trafficability.

Well-structured soils have a better balance of air and water. These benefit root growth and promote an active soil ecosystem.

Such soils are more resilient to waterlogging and can increase the number of grazing days and machinery workdays.


Tillage and compaction disrupt the connectivity of pores and water films in the soil, changing the air/water balance.

Careful management of grazing and/or timely operations can help a continuous pore network develop, from the soil surface to the subsoil.

If soil is in a plastic state in the top 40 cm, then traffic should be minimised.


Where installed and maintained, drainage can help naturally wet or slowly permeable soils stay below the plastic limit for longer.

Changes in tillage alter soil surface conditions, especially over winter. This is particularly true of non-inversion techniques and targeted reduction in compaction risk, which help reduce run-off and associated sediment loss.

Useful links

See a summary of the key soil health principles for sandy, medium and heavy (clay) soils

Find out more about soil structure

Learn about GREATsoils

Read the Principles of soil management guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of Principles of soil management, please use our online order form or call 0247 799 0069.

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Amanda Bennett

Senior Environment Manager (Soil Health & RB209)

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