In the rocky landscape of the North West Highlands soil is a rare and precious resource both for agriculture and woodlands. Inland, Assynt benefits from patches of limestone bedrock which provide occasional oases of fertile soil.

Although the soils of this area have not been studied in detail, recent research across the North Atlantic region and Scotland has revealed that where past human settlement existed, soil depth may have been artificially increased. In Scotland this typically involved composting materials such as household waste and ash and mixing this with seaweed, turf/peat, animal manures and sand to create very fertile soils for growing crops. This system of land management would have started in prehistory and was widely used until just a century ago.

In the North West Highlands the abandoned settlements of the Highland Clearances may contain a rare and important soil resource which is poorly understood and may be useful to local communities for both heritage and agricultural purposes in the future.

The aims of this project were to:

  • Understand the nature of this resource and how current land management may be affecting its historical record, structure, chemistry and fertility; developing a future use for these soils as a contribution to building resilient communities through sustainable land management practices.
  • Study the soil resource in Assynt, detect past land management practices and work together with current land managers to understand what they have learned from their experience of the land.
  • Share this knowledge with current and future land managers, from gardeners to large estates to help everyone become the best stewards that they can be of the soil resource.

Involve the young people in the area, inspiring and empowering them to think about a career in science, crofting and beyond.

You can find out more about this project, and download a free booklet on ‘Identifying Areas of Fertile Soil in Coigach and Assynt’ at 


Project partners

Funding partners