Robens Osprey 2EX Test and canoe up the River Thet

This is a film pitching the Robens Osprey 2EX and setting up camp followed by a peaceful canoe up the River Thet.

You can find out more about the gear that was used in the links below.

Pilgrim Chair – a great space saver and easy to carry – Available here £77.99

Fire Bug Stove Titanium – the perfect, small and lightweight stove for backpacking – Available here £67.00

Frontier Cook Set M – also comes in large, it fits snuggly together and the gas and the Fire Bug can fit inside the pot – Available here £44.99

Robens River Elk 1 Tent and Coniston Water

I had the pleasure of testing out the Robens Elk River 1 tent on the shores of Coniston Water in the Lake District between lockdowns in 2020. I also took a look at the Prima vapour sleeping mat, Serac sleeping bag and the Fire Moth cooking set.

Gear was gifted for independent testing. To find out more check out the links below.

River Elk 1 – A great little one person tent for backpacking – available here £299.99

PrimaVapour 40 – Perfect for summer backpacking and one of the lightest I have carried – available here £89.99

Serac 600 – It is filled with traceable down so lightweight but I am intrigued to try Robens new down free sleeping bags – available here £269.99

Leaf Flask 0.7l Ocean – this is my favourite water bottle, it comes everywhere, fitting easily in a backpack side pocket or on the bike bottle holder – available here £8.99

Fire Moth System – this is a great gas cooking system boiling the water for my cuppa within a minute or so – available here £73.99

BMC Women in Adventure Film Competition

I am thrilled to announce that my film Pioneer has been listed in the BMC Women in Adventure Film Competition 2021.

Celebrating the early pioneering women who paved the way allowing us all to have the opportunity to go outdoors, explore and experience the world. Pioneer is about inclusivity; how anyone from a minority can make a change, how the great outdoors and nature is there for everyone to enjoy.

I wanted to combine my love of period pieces to my love of walking, the outdoors and being surrounded by Nature. So this piece is less about climbing the highest mountain but more about the ideal that Nature is there for everyone to enjoy.

One of the prizes is done on views so I would love for you to watch and share if possible. To find out more about the competition and watch some of the other great films here.

Thank you for your support. Holly.

Holly’s Tree Identification Record Book

This record book will help you identify and become familiar with 30 British tree species.  Of these 21 are native, 5 are naturalised or commonly found broadleaved trees and there are 4 commercial exotic conifers.

The idea of this booklet is for you to gradually build up knowledge of British trees. You will note that the correct conventions are used for plant naming, i.e. Capital letter for the generic name and small (lower case) letters for the specific name.

The trees in the Record book are listed in the following order:

  • Native trees (mainly deciduous)
  • Introduced or naturalised none native broadleaves
  • Commercial exotic conifers 


Acer campestre  (Field Maple) Calcareous soils in southern UK

Country of Origin:  UK and Europe Ultimate height:  15m but usually as a  shrubby  bush less than 5m

Main Feature(s): Small shrubby tree often multi stemmed.  Typical maple and like a small sycamore.  An ancient woodland indicator species.

Description: Typical maple with leaves in pairs arranged opposite each other.  Leaves generally small (4-5cm) and tri lobed.  Bark pale brown with fine white vertical lines.  Shoots and buds much finer and smaller than sycamore but similar

Family:   Aceraceae

Alnus glutinosa   (Alder) Moist/water-logged sites

Country of Origin: Europe and UK 

Main Feature(s): The leaves will never come to a point, a slight indentation, but no point. 

Ultimate height:    25 metres

Description: The leaves alternate on the stem, they have deep veins on the leaves. The dark, leathery leaves can be up to 10cm, they can also have shallow random lobes. It can have catkins and fruit on up to 5cm long. 

Family:  Betulaceae

Betula pendula  (Silver Birch) Dry acid sites and cold exposed sites

Country of Origin: Europe, UK and Asia Minor

Main Feature(s): It has a whitish bark, with thin roughly, woody twigs and the leaves alternate down these stems. The simple leaves are not lobed but intermediately, double toothed with a tapered point. They are hairless and hold quite a triangular shape. 

Ultimate height: 30 metres

Description: The twigs start to weep downwards, and the male flowers drop catkins of about 3cm long, whilst the female flowers are upright between 1.2 – 2 cm in height. The leaves are on average 4cm long and 2.5 in width, along the widest part. 

Family:  Betulaceae

Carpinus betulus   (Hornbeam) Calcareous soils

Country of Origin: Europe, UK and Asia Minor

Main Feature(s): The leaves that are about 7cm in length have deep, parallel veins and are dark green in colouring. 

Ultimate height: 30 metres

Description: The leaves are very similar to the common beech leaves, this type is a simple, double toothed, linear leaf, often found in hedge rows. The width of these leaves is smaller than the length of the leaf. The trees are quite hardy and can grow in a variety of soils. 

Family:   Carpinaceae

Corylus avellana   (Hazel)

Country of Origin: Europe, UK, Scotland and Ireland

Main Feature(s): Edible cobs develop early spring from the fertilised female flower, which grow in groups of 2-4. The tree itself branches out from several stems which gives it more width than height. 

Ultimate height 10 metres

Description: A Hazel leaf has a simple, linear, double toothed leaf structure, which are hairy thus giving it a rough texture. They are a very roundish leaf which has an abrupt point and grow alternately on the stem.

Family:  Corylaceae

Crataegus monogyna    (Hawthorn) Red fruits and exposed inland or coastal sites

Country of Origin: Europe, UK, North West Africa and Western Asia.

Main Feature(s): The leaves are lobed and toothed in a random order and size, each leave looks different, but are all of a dark colouring 

Ultimate height: 10 metres

Description: It flowers late spring, and has red berries that grow in groups of about 4-6. The leaf is of a simple structure, it has a thorny, pinately lobed edge, with the widest part near the base. The leaves are very close together on the hard, woody stem. The leaves are of an average length of 4cm long and the widest part can be just as wide as long.

Family:  Rosaceae

Fagus sylvatica    (Beech)

Country of Origin: South and West Europe also UK.

Main Feature(s): To the touch this leaf is very smooth and silky, each of the leaves have a simple and very similar appearance.   

Ultimate height: 40 metres

Description: The leaf is a simple, un-lobed shiny dark green leaf. It is slightly toothed and of a roundish shape. It can grow up to 10cm long, thus being longer than wide. The widest part of the leaf is central, and the veins, which are quite deep, are paired. This tree is one of the UKs tallest broadleaves. 

Family:  Fagaceae

Fraxinus excelsior   (Common Ash) Calcareous soils

Country of Origin: Europe, UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): The black buds on Ash makes it easier to identify. 

Ultimate height: rarely up to 40 metres, but most commonly no more than 30 metres.

Description: The leaves are made up of between 9-13 leaflets. These stalkless leaflets are of a compound pinnate structure and are on opposite pairs on the leaf. They are intermediately toothed and always end in a point. The fruit, which grows to about 4cms, is single winged and of a brown/greenish colour, which hang in clusters on the branches. 

Family:  Oleaceae

Ilex aquifolium   (Holly) Dry shade and attractive fruits

Country of Origin: Europe, UK and Ireland, West Asia.

Main Feature(s): This evergreen has very distinct, sharply toothed leaves accompanied by small, toxic red berries in the correct season. 

Ultimate height: 23 metres 

Description: The tree itself is often used in hedgerows, the leaf has a simple, dark green, spiny structure and grows closely together up the stem. Some varieties may be spineless, and the red berries are only on the female trees. 

Family:  Aquifoliaceae

Malus sylvestris   (Wild/Crab Apple) Attractive fruits

Country of Origin: Europe, UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): The bark on these trees are quite easy to identify and the leaves have a rough appearance and slight texture. 

Ultimate height: uncommon to see it around 17 metres, more commonly 10 to 15 meters

Description: This deciduous tree has a simple, roundish toothed leaf structure, which has a bud at the base of the stalk and edible fruits. The leaf has a paler underneath and has a length of 6cms. The fruits have a slightly pink underside and are quite hard and acidic. 

Family:  Rosaceae

Populus tremula   (Aspen) Well drained uplands and wetland fringes 

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): The leaves have flat stalks, and make a distinct sound as the wind passes between the leaves. The leaves start off a copper colour then soon become green and with that they lose the hair. 

Description: The leaf is a rounded compound leaf which has large curved teeth, it can be up to 7cm across.  They have a pointed tip, and quite faint veins and grow on a rough woody stem. It has 4cm long catkins that droop down and are of a purple colouring.

Family:  Pinaceae

Prunus avium   (Wild cherry) Fertile brown earths

Country of Origin: UK, Ireland

Ultimate height: 25 to 30 metres 

Description: They have 3cm wide, 5 petalled white flowers, which are borne in clusters. It is a simple, oval leaf structure with blunt irregular, intermediate teeth. The branches have nodules, and the flowers spring out from the base of the stem along with the alternate leaves. 

Family:  Pinaceae

Prunus padus   (Bird Cherry) Hedgerows and upland oak woods

Country of Origin: Scotland, Ireland and UK

Main Feature(s): The 8mm long fruit, are small black when ripe, have their own stalk and are very bitter. 

Ultimate height: 15 metres, but most commonly around 10 metres

Description: Matt, dark green, simple linear leaves, with small teeth. The leaves grow alternately on the stem, these leaves can grow up to 10cm in length. The bark is dull and rough to the touch.

Family:  Rosaceae

Pinus sylvestris   (Scots pine) Dry acid soils

Country of Origin: Native to British Isles, Scotland Evergreen, conifer 

Main Feature(s): Needles grow in pairs, they are no longer than 9cm. Oval shaped cones grow to 8cm with a whitish grey colouring to the scales. 

Ultimate height: 35 metres 

Description: The needle like leaves are stiff but wispy and sometimes have a silvery white tint and they are longer on younger trees. Lower branches on the tree die and fall over time. The female flower points upwards and has a yellowy orange colouring. 

Family:  Pinaceae

Quercus petrea   (Sessile Oak)

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): Leaves are stalked and the acorns (fruit) are not stalked.

Ultimate height: seen at 42 metres before 

Description: The leaf stalks are about 1 – 2 cm long, and alternate up the stem. The leaves are of a simple, shallow, pinately lobed structure. There are 3 to 8 lobes on a leaf, age dependant. The buds are clustered together at the end of the stalk.

Family:  Fagaceae

Quercus robur    (Common Oak or Pedunculate Oak)

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): Leaves are not stalked but the fruits are. The stalks for the acorns, of which grow in pairs, range around 5 – 12cms. 

Ultimate height: 38 metres

Description: The leaf structure is very similar to that of a sessile oak, as stated above. The leaves have irregular lobes but at the base it will always have a pair of small lobes. The widest part of this leaf is the centre lobes. 

Family:  Fagaceae

Sorbus aucuparia    (Mountain Ash or Rowan) Attractive fruits and dry, acid soils and exposed inland sites

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): Rowan has a strong smell. The leaflets are dark green, tapered, stalkless, intermediately, deep toothed and normally about 15 to a leaf. 

Ultimate height: 25 metres 

Description: They have a cluster of pale whitish yellow, 5 petalled flowers and the red berries are up to 8mm round. The opposite leaflets on the leaf, and a single leaflet on the tip. These compound pinately leaflets are longer than wide and looks quite similar to the Sorbus domestica. 

Family:  Rosaceae

Taxus baccata   (Yew) Calcareous/alkaline sites

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): Leaves are flat on the twig rather than all the way round (hedgehog like). Red outer berry with a greenish fruit inside. (poisonous)

Ultimate height: 20 metres

Description: This evergreen conifer has 30 x 3mm long linear leaves which end in a point. These leaves are dark on top but have a yellowish underside. The male flowers release a cloud of pollen early spring.  

Family:  Taxaceae

Tilia cordata  (Small-leaved Lime) Well drained brown earths

Country of Origin: UK

Main Feature(s): These long stalked leaves are hairless, but a little rust coloured tuffs can be found alongside the veins underneath. They have smaller linerar leaves bearing the smooth fruit. 

Ultimate height: 30 metres 

Description: This deciduous broadleaf has heart shaped leaves, these leaves are on average 3 to 8cm long. The leaves have regular intermediate teeth. The leaves are normally in clusters of 3 to 10. These heart shaped leaves end in an abrupt tapered point. 

Family:  Tiliaceae

Tilia platyphyllos  (Large-leaved Lime) Well drained brown earths – the south

Country of Origin: UK and Wales

Main Feature(s): Hair on stalks, leaf like bract and hairs on fruit. There are no fruits and leaves at the base of this tree.

Ultimate height: 40 metres

Description: Suckers are often found at the base of these whitish haired, heart shaped leaf. The alternate leaves are of a dark and dull colouring, they are about 10 to 15 cm long. Very similar to the small leaved lime, but this has larger leaves with whiter hairs.

Family:  Tiliaceae

Ulmus glabra  (Wych Elm)

Country of Origin: UK and Ireland

Main Feature(s): This leave has deep veins and has a asymmetrical base. They are the only elms to have hairs on both sides of the leaf. They are well toothed and have a pointed tip. The leaf isn’t shiny. 

Ultimate height: 30 metres 

Description: This deciduous broadleaf has a simple, linear leaf structure and is of a dark green colouring. The shoots are dark grey and have hard ridges, and the buds are dark, almost purple and have hairs. The oval shaped leaf is about 10-16cm long and alternates up the twig. 

Family:  Ulmaceae


Acer pseudoplatanus (Sycamore) Polluted atmosphere and cold, exposed sites

Country of Origin: Europe

Main Feature(s): This tree has 5 lobed stalked leaves and is the only tree susceptible to the black spot disease. 

Ultimate height: 35 metres

Description:       It has a simple leaf structure and is deeply palmatley lobed, with small teeth along all the lobes. The size of a leaf is large and about 16 x 23 on young trees. They have a long stalk and it can be easily broken off the twig. They have winged “helicopter” seeds which wings fan in and then outwards at the two ends. 

Family:   Aceraceae

Castanea sativa    (Sweet or Spanish Chestnut) Dry, acid soils and frost free

Country of Origin: Europe

Main Feature(s): Long thin, toothed leathery leaf. The fruits, it can be up to 4cm in diameter holding 2 to 3 edible nuts. 

Ultimate height: up to 30 metres high

Description: This simple, narrow leaved tree has very distinguishable leaves. It has golden yellow flowers between the asymmetrical leaf pattern.  

Family:   Fagaceae

Salix x sepulcralis “Chrysocoma”        (Weeping Willow) Weeping habit (pendulous)

Country of Origin:

Main Feature(s): Leaves wisp downwards along the stem and are much longer than wide.  

Ultimate height: 25 metres 

Description: This deciduous tree has a simple, linear, minutely toothed leaf structure, of which are over 10cm in length. They grow alternately down the long stem. Their catkins are of a yellowish colouring and can grow to 7.5cms long. 

Family:  Salicaceae

Platanus x hispanica   (London Plane) Bold foliage and attractive bark

Country of Origin: S. France / Spain

Main Feature(s): Simple palmately, shiny, 5 lobed leaves grow alternately up the twig.  

Ultimate height: 35 metres  

Description: The leaves are quite thick and leathery, they are about 20cm long and wide, it does widely vary though. They are of a deep green colouring but paler underneath. They have long stalks and variable lobbing, but very defined. 

Family:  Platanaceae

Aesculus hippocastanum   (Horse Chestnut) Bold foliage and attractive fruits

Country of Origin: South East Europe

Main Feature(s): Compound palmately leaf structure with 5 or 7 stalkless leaflets. 

Ultimate height: 39 metres 

Description: This deciduous broadleaf tree has a jaggered double toothed edge. The leaflets  vary in length, with the shortest closest to the twig. In autumn they bear a spiny husk which holds 1 to 2 fruits inside, also known as conkers. The veins on the leaflets are quite bold and the leaf has a dry rustle to it.

Family: Hippocastanaceae

Larix Decidua    (Common Larch) Traditional European plantation species


Country of Origin: Europe 

Main Feature(s): The only deciduous conifer. Cones grow to 4cm long. The needle like leaves grow in bunches. They have two pale bands beneath. 

Ultimate height: to 45 metres

Description: The female flowers hang downwards and are cone-like but have a purple colouring. The short soft needles grow in rosettes. The cones are egg shape NOT barrel shaped. The leaves are less than 1mm wide and of a bright green colouring.

Family:  Cupressaceae

Picea sitchensis (Sitka spruce) UK’s dominant plantation tree


Country of Origin: Alaska to N. California

Main Feature(s): It has dull blue-grey leaves with two pale lines underneath from tip to bottom. There is a peg left on the twig when a needle is pulled. 

Ultimate height: 60, sometimes 80 metres

Description: Narrow, flat like needles that are about 1 to 3 cms long. They are very prickly. Its flower, both male and female are quite large cone like flowers. They ripen from green to brown and are about 6 to 10cms in length. Hedgehog like leaf layout. 

Family:  Pinaceae

Picea abies (Norway spruce) Plantation tree in UK / dominant European conifer


Country of Origin: Europe and Russia

Main Feature(s): Drops its needles and used as a Christmas tree. It has needles of about 1 to 2 cms that grow evenly along the branch. Bright green needle colouring. 

Ultimate height: to 50 metres

Description: This tree has male and female flowers on the same tree. The female flowers produce pendulous greenish cones up to 15cm long. When needles are rubbed, it gives a Christmas rich smell, and also leaves a peg when pulled. 

Family:  Pinacea

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) Plantation tree in UK on brown earths


Country of Origin: Western North America

Main Feature(s): The cones have a feathery 3 pointed bract down the middle. The female flowers are tassel like and are borne at the end of stems.  

Ultimate height: up to 62 metres

Description: The needles twist in all directions and are long, flat, narrow and are about 3cm long. They have a sucker like base. Buds at the end of most stems, and the needles have a deep bottom vein and either side it is paler. 

Family:  Pinaceae

Family and the outdoors

You are never alone.

Family is a word which derives from the latin familia, meaning servant, to serve. I am lucky enough to have a big family and we have been together during lockdown, including our four legged family members. We look after each other, make sure each member of the familia is safe. Which made me think about those during this last year who are alone.

Loneliness can make your body feel cold, it can suppress your immune system putting you more at risk of disease. However, I found that the great outdoors can help combat it, Doctors are prescribing time in green spaces, it can improve mental and physical health. I always feel more proactive after going for a walk, hugging a tree and just sitting in the local woodlands listening to the sounds of the woodpeckers, robins and great tits as they sing above my head.

Even if you can’t be together with all family members, for whatever reason, know that they are there with you in mind, spirit and soul.

Work with Holly

It is known that spending time outdoors and in contact with the natural environment can have positive effects on physical and mental health (Pretty et al 2005, Seymour 2003). With tourism lower due to the recent pandemic, it is important, now more than ever to get people back outdoors. Regular walking improves mood, reduces anxiety and helps with sleep (Department of Health 2004, Mind 2008, Walking the Way to Health 2009). 

By working with Holly you will get some beautiful, authentic marketing material to show off your National Park, AONB, SPA, Heritage Site or Wildlife Sanctuary to your audience and to help you encourage more people back out into your natural space. 

This bespoke content is yours to use in perpetuity on your website, social media and in other marketing material. If you would like to know more, then please contact Holly below…

Why I love New Zealand

the mountains
the wildlife

the trees
the sky

take a moment

Take a moment and think about some of your best memories. Chances are they are action or views, not necessarily words.

For me, New Zealand has many memories. I love hiking the trails in Arthur’s Pass where Avalanche Peak sits shadowing over the valley below watching you drive from East to West coast. I love the mountains in New Zealand, the volcanoes and all their stories.

Poor old Mount Taranaki who was banished to the coast.

I love the wildlife, the flora and fauna which fills every nook and cranny. Wherever you look there are wild flowers or domesticated flowers home to wild insects and then there are the trees. Oh the trees of New Zealand, especially the Kauri tree (Agathis australis) reaching 50 meters high gaining its nourishment from the leaf litter close to the surface.

Then there is the sky.

The sky which I can stand and look at for hours on end. Whether it’s the cirrus clouds whispering over the lakes or the cumulonimbus clouds forming around the mountains. Even at night, on a clear sky, watching the stars overlook the planet whilst we sleep.

I love it all and I wish the country a safe recovery from current situations.

You may also like /additional reading:

Six weeks in New Zealand blog.

New Zealand Landscape gallery

Camping in the snow

1am, the field

It’s meant to be -3 overnight so I thought why not camp out. The warm, cosy van is just around the corner, but now is the perfect opportunity to test out some kit, before heading to the Alps (once restrictions have lifted).

This kit is suitable for a wild camp backpack adventure.

I have chosen some of the lightest kit including the single person River Elk tent which was really smooth to put up. I love this style of tent where the inner and outer go up in one. Makes something which could be a faff, easy. As the temperature dropped I was in my base layers in a Serac 600 sleeping bag. I was very comfortable, as the comfort level for this bag is -7, for women.

The sleep mat, weighing 485g has a diamond pattern which I haven’t tried before. I found that this mat would be great in the summer, however I sleep on my side and I did feel my hip slide into the channels overnight so could feel the cold. Even though this mat might not be the best style for me, I would say for a summer walk for someone without the pointy hips this mat would be a great lightweight addition.

I haven’t cooked here as I am adhering to lockdown measures and camping at home.

So even though we are hunkering down at home, we can all still have some mini adventures without having to travel. I am just working out what is next – watch this space!

to conclude,

What is a Chordate?

There are 5 main characteristics which put all the species within the Chordata phylum, they all have evolved to have a notochord within their bodies, they have this instead of a shell, this notochord when combined with the Dorsal Hollow Nerve Cord provides an internal support which the fluid tube of nerve fluid will then pass from top to bottom of the animal, acting as a spinal cord.

These are ancestors of humans as the boned spine of us today can be linked back to the Pikaia, the very first back boned animal. There is also a pair of openings through the pharynx present which shows that they are filter feeders, they all have blocks of muscle which extend into a post anus tail, the muscle surrounds the notochord along the whole length of the animal.


The basic traits of this phylum are that all the species are bilaterally symmetrical; they are segmented and have developed a gut tube, their coelom. The Devonian Period was a time in history where fish developed in leaps and bounds! They were first thought to have evolved in the Cambrian explosion, Levine (2003). The Pikaia fossil was found in the Burgess Shales, the fossil shows us many ways of how this organism lived.

We can tell that it swam along the sea bed using its tail as a fin, because of its mouth area, no scientist has distinguished what it exactly ate but it looks like it just fed off particles in the water and near the sea floor. Being one of the first fossils having “soft parts” it is a major discovery, (2011).

Urochordata (Tunicates)

Sea Squirts are marine animals which both are solitary and colonial, depending on the species. They are sessile animals and have a unique feature; where they settle on a rock head first, their tail disappearing overtime and once stuck they then move their mouth moves back upward to catch passing particles to consume.

The hermaphrodite species release sperm and eggs. The eggs are about a third of one millimetre and kept in the body until they start to evolve within a few weeks. A siphon takes in the passing particles to be absorbed; this is known as suspension feeders. 

Sea Squirt © diverstef/Fotolia

Cephalochordata (Amphioxus)

Lancelet worms are filter feeders with no brain at all and are a marine subphylum, they swim and can bury themselves in the sand. All of the characteristics of a chordate are present, including the post anal tail. They do however have poor eyesight and lack of brain, but as they have sensors they are not really needed. So instead of wasting energy and time developing them they have evolved to have superior “feelers” and this allows them to hunt efficiently, Barnes (1994).

There are only about 30 species of Lancelet worm present they can grow up to about 7cm in length. Their cirri (tentacle feelers) are used as sensors for particles in the water, the pharynx has lots of gill slits which allows water to pass. Once absorbed the water passes out through the atriopore, Sherwood (1977). 

Lancelet Worm – (Branchiostoma lanceolatum) photo by Hans Hillewaert

Craniata (Vertebrates)

Ggnathastomes have two main types within; these are the Hagfish that secrete slime as a protection from predators and the Lamprey which have a cartilage dorsal cord and have seven gills present on each side. They are a parasitic species. The main difference is their habitat, Lampreys can live in both freshwater and oceanic but Hagfish can only live in Oceanic waters.

Lamprey – Anjanette Bowen/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Their bodies have been developed to have a lower salt concentration in their bodies compared to in the waters which is why if put in a fresh water environment they wouldn’t survive. You know these are carnivorous because of their sharp toothed tongues, which pierce through their prey. The Hagfish can tie itself in a knot as a way to release itself from prey if caught and also to wipe the slime off of its body to make a quick escape. They were first thought to be hermaphrodites but research shows that this is not the case, they are born with both sex cells but only one takes dominance, Biglow (1948).


So there you go, I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about our wonderful world and those that inhabit it!

What is soil?

There are many elements that contribute to the formation of Soil and they are: climate, time, organisms, parent material, relief. Climate is the most important with determining soil characteristics. Soils are a valuable non renewable source. 

Horizons are the different levels in the soil’s profile, in each level something different is happening within the soil. It is the downward movement of material by leaching and eluviations that creates the layers within the soil profile. These horizons show the major inputs and transformations from the soil. Eluviation is the downward movement of particles in the soil.

H – is the top layer of organic material which is saturated with water

O – decomposed litter which is mixed with minerals

A – this is the mineral horizon

E – this layer is depleted of material and is mainly silt or sand particles, therefore resulting in a lighter colour

B – it is the subsurface, the zone of accumulation

C – the layer of unconsolidated parent material

R – this parent material is hard bedrock eg limestone

H – Humus = organic matter. Organic matter is dead organisms and plant remains. There are three stages to a humus layer. From top to bottom layer one is Mor – twigs, leaves etc, middle layer is Moder – which is the partly humified remains and the bottom layer is Mull, which is well decomposed organic matter. Humus is very stable yet very variable, it is known as a chemical junkyard. 

Soil composition

Air 20-30%

Water 20-30%

Organic Matter 5%

Mineral 45%

Clay has the smallest soil particles.


A Platy soil structure is produced after a lot of freezing and thawing in the soil. 

Gravitational Water – removes nutrients from the soil as it moves down macropores, it takes nutrients lower, moving it away from the plants, making growth harder.

Capillary Water – it’s found in the micropores of the soil and therefore is found higher as the plant roots can find this water. 

Hygroscopic Water – is different as it is useless for plants as it is in vapour form.

Water in the soil;

Gleying (mottling) is due to waterlogged soil.

Podzol – have a Ea layer which is bleached by the leaching of humic oxides and also has a Bh layer, this layer is blackened by humic oxides. (Chapman J. 2002) it is founds in a cool, humid and temperate environment. Rainfall is a major input. 

IronPan – has a really thick dark humus layer. The soil below has a glacial origin and is called induration. 

Rendzina – bright white soil, its chalky and good for grasses.

Rendzina. credit K. Rilling, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Gleysol – water logged environments, it provides anaerobic conditions. 

Gleysol © ISRIC,

Ferralsol – an old soil, it has been thought high levels of weathering, it is a bright red colour due to mineralization. 

Histosol – a soil which has a lack of O2. It is very dark due to rapid accumulation of organic matter. It has a very hight water and organic matter input. 

Spodosol – lower layers are stained with aluminium and iron oxides, due to the acidic soil formed by the amount of needles from coniferous trees which decompose and it is these needles that form a weak acid during decomposing.

The calcification process occurs when the soil has a high organic matter amount and there is calcium carbonate precipitated from water. This produces a bit of leaching leading the A horizon to become dry, yet organic rich. The vegetation is mainly grassland.

Peds are small particles in the soil that form clusters and therefore making bigger pore spaces, for water and air. 

Temperature regulates the rate of decomposition. Therefore showing that Evapotranspiration and rainfall affect the movement of water and leaching. 

Soil structure – the proportions of sand, silt and clay and the bonds which form aggregates 

Soil Colloids – are clay minerals that have a large surface area and a positive charge, they include hydrous oxides of iron and aluminium. 

The cation exchange capacity (CEC) is the soils ability to absorb the cations. A soil with high CEC has a high change of particle collision. A clay rich, high humus soil will have the most collision. (Ashman, 2002)

Rainfall leads to leaching, and when certain types of rock are decomposed by this process a process called lateralization occurs, it deposits large amounts of ferric hydroxides and aluminium. (

Photo by Zbynek Burival

Aluminium is toxic to plants as it inhibits cell division, for example shorter roots are made, reaching less horizons, making it easier for them to die in a drought or during soil erosion. 

When areas are totally water logged all the time this dark, thick peat layer is found and it is due to the amount of bacterial activity, this soil is found normally in low lying areas where rainfall is high. Iron is released from the decaying organic matter changing the colour of the soil because of oxidation. This process is called Gleization.

Salt precipitates from the water making saline soils, like the soils you will find in dry, warm conditions, the process where salts accumulate in the soil is called salinization.

salinization – Credit: Antonio Jordán (distributed via

Nutrients are a substance used by an organism for food. They need certain amounts to be at full potential. The nutrients they need are below. The three most important nutrients are Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous. Soil nitrogen is found in the soils organic matter, it is found in the form of ammonium and nitrate. If a soil has too much water it leaves the plants with nitrogen deficiency. 

Macro Nutrients 

C & O = Atmospheric

PO, SO, NO – Anions = Soil Sources

NH, K, Ca, Mg – Cations = Soil Sources

Micro Nutrients 

All are Soil Sources –

Mo, BO – Anions

Cl, Fe, Mn,Zn, Cu – Cations 

The exchange of nutrients within a pool is referred to as turnover. 

Soil Surveys map the distribution by measuring the soil and inspecting it.

Soil degradation 

Catena is…

The sequence of soils that occupy a slope transect, from the topography divide to the bottom of the adjacent valley. (Smithson, 2002) 

Bulk Density = weight of soil per unit volume

Air Capacity = percentage of volume occupied by air

Water Holding Capacity = water held once drained (using gravity)

Soils can become contaminated by many different human influences, they include –

  • Sewage sludge, pathogens
  • Metals from mines,
  • Landfill sites,
  • Fertilizers

Elevate chemical levels in the soil is counted as contamination. These contaminates can be divided into organic and inorganic compounds. Organic include, pesticides through leaching, PHA. Inorganic includes, acid rain, metals and radiation. 

Soil Erosion

It happens in two main steps: 

  1. Is the dislodging of soil particles
  2. The movement of particles to a new location 

Soil erosion increases the pollutant risk, it is the least renewable physical component of an ecosystem. Erosion is important to understand as it reduces plant root depth, leading to less plant species in that area, it is however a natural process but human activity does increase it. 


Soil is formed when the mineral material from rock and organic matter combine. There are many different processes which break up soils.

  • Physical Weathering 

Two main types are Thermal where heat causes expansion and the second is Mechanical, e.g Frost Shattering. 

  • Chemical Weathering 

Hydrolysis – H20 separated into two molecules that attack the mineral bonds within the soil.

Carbonation – this is basically accelerated hydrolysis due to biological activity.

Hydration – the absorption of water e.g like pasta. 

Dissolution – the minerals dissolve from the soils.

Oxidation and Reduction – is the loss and gain of electrons through the contact of air/oxygen.


Ashman M.R, Puri G. 2002.Essential Soil Science, a clear and concise introduction to soil science. Blackwell Science Ltd

Chapman J. L, Reiss M. J, 1999. Ecology Principles and Applications. 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press   

Smithson P. et al, 2002. Fundamentals of the physical environment. 3rd edn. Routledge UK.           Pages 398 – 418$FILE/FCIN078.pdf visited: 23/12/2010 visited: 27/12/10 visited: 27/12/10 visited: 27/12/10 visited: 27/12/10 visited: 27/12/10