Soil Health & Soil Heritage – Dalswinton Workshop

Workshop 1: Dalswinton Estate Field Visit

22 March 2022

A field visit to the Dalswinton Estate near Dumfries provided the focus for a discussion of the challenges of creating and using interoperable remote and near-surface sensing data on agricultural soils with a wider community of researchers and practitioners from across the UK.

The Dalswinton Estate covers 5,000 acres. Situated 7 miles North of Dumfries, its land includes the flood plain of the River Nith, pastures, a forested area, and the Dalswinton Moor. There are extensive records of Roman occupation on the estate, and the remains of a significant Roman military camp have been documented through archaeological geophysical (Hanson, Jones and Jones 2019) and air photographic surveys. Richard Jones (University of Glasgow), who has led archaeological investigations at Dalswinton, facilitated the connection between the ipaast-czo research project and the Estate.

In the early 14th Century, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, owned the estate, which was subsequently bought in 1785 by Patrick Miller and then again in 1819 by the Macalpine-Leny family. The Landale family bought the estate in 1919 and are the current residents and managers. The field visit was actively supported by Peter and Sarah Lansdale, who provided information on the estate’s business and priorities, and by Andy Williamson, the farm manager, who led discussion on the farm’s operations.

The modern businesses on the estate include:

  • A Suckler herd of 550 cows producing beef
  • A 2,000 acre forestry operation
  • A portfolio of over 50 cottages which are rented out
  • Guests stay at Dalswinton House to come and shoot on local estates
  • There are over 10 commercial businesses which are located on Dalswinton and rent properties to carry out their businesses.

The estate is currently carrying out an extensive carbon audit and investigating means of improving its biodiversity. They are actively interested in the management of the archaeological heritage on their land.

The specific agricultural, environmental and archaeological context of the Dalswinton Estate served as an example for the group’s cross-disciplinary discussions. Using the area of the Bankhead Roman camp on the Dalswinton Estate as a case study, the group discussed methods for sensor-led mapping and monitoring of the soil systems, the challenges of understanding the soil systems present, and how this understanding might support more sustainable management, accounting for agricultural, environmental and archaeological factors. The group explored connections between data and models used in agri-environment and archaeological domains, and links between our technical and broader understandings of soils in the context of current conversations on sustainable agricultural landscapes.  

These were captured in diagrams of connections between technical soil properties and key concepts related to soil health and heritage.

We aggregated the connections identified by all the groups and then assessed which technical properties and concepts are most densely interconnected. The density of connections and graph-centrality of properties and concepts in this network is suggestive of the role of that concept or property in the shared understanding of soils which emerged throughout the day.

Visualisation of the degree of connection of properties and concepts related to soil health and heritage. Larger nodes (circles) are more connected overall (as measured in degree). Nodes with the same colours are more closely connected to one another.

The code used to produce this graph and assess the degree of connection between properties and concepts is here.

Based on this exercise, in the shared domain of Soil Health & Heritage the core concepts are Sustaining plant health, Storing Carbon, Supporting a living ecosystem, and Archiving evidence of past human activities. The core properties to assess are Soil Moisture, Carbon Content, Organic Matter Content, and Soil Porosity. This characterisation of the shared domain, developed by the group at Dalswinton, reflects the research prioritisation matrix created by the group which carried out the instrument review.

Towards developing a sensor-led integrated land management strategy

Based on brief presentations of the known archaeology on the Estate, the soil types present, topography, and current management challenges and priorities, the participants divided into smaller groups to rapidly develop plans for an integrated approach to deploying sensors on the Estate.

Improved topographic data using the RTK GPS data from tractors, collected while conducing surveys with an on-the-go soil nutrient sensor.

  • Mapping and monitoring soil erosion
  • Assessing soil depth
  • 4-5 in situ soil moisture and temperature sensors at representative locations selected based on an assessment of archaeological potential and agricultural management zones
  • 2 water sensors at locations representing the entry and exit points from the catchment.
  • Baseline soil carbon survey – physical sampling and gamma ray spectroscopy.


Andrew NicholsonDumfries and Galloway Council
Andy WilliamsonDumfries Estate
Clive BlackerAgrivation
Eamonn BaldwinUniversity of Glasgow
Helen SandisonCensis
Henry WebberRoyal Agricultural University
Jack Zuill Independent Environmental Consultant
John CrawfordUniversity of Glasgow
Keith ChallisNational Trust
Malcolm CoullJames Hutton Institute
John HollandSRUC
Nick WilsonYork University
Rachael WakefieldCensis
Rachel OpitzUniversity of Glasgow
Rok PlesnicarWessex Archaeology
Simon Gibson-PooleSRUC
This project was supported by funding from NERC (DISCIPLINE HOPPING) – award 317545.