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The British Standard For Certified Topsoil

What Is BS3882:2007?

Topsoil is an important component of any landscaping or civil engineering project. From private gardens to large scale sporting applications it supports the growth of vegetation by providing an anchorage for plant roots, slowly releasing nutrients, providing oxygen and draining away excess water. It also retains moisture to sustain plant growth during dry periods. 

The British Standard for topsoil was revised in 2007, the new BS3882:2007 replaces the 1994 version and specifies the requirements for topsoil that is moved or traded, for example, in landscaping or remediation projects. BS3882:2007 is not intended for the grading, classification or standardisation of topsoil that remains in situ.

The new standard provides advice on correct soil sampling, handling, analysis, spreading and drainage. As well as guidance on ensuring soils are fit for use, safe and healthy for humans, vegetation and the broader environment. It also advises on how to avoid soil erosion and weed establishment including consideration of the subsoil.

Topsoil differs from sub soil by having an organic matter content. Organic matter is the essential ingredient of any topsoil, it contains the essential nutrients that plants and micro-organisms feed off. It also improves the structure of the soil by improving drainage and locking in moisture around plant roots. Without organic matter soil is infertile.

BS3882:2007 describes multipurpose and specialist purpose topsoils. Multipurpose topsoil is fit for most needs whereas specific purpose topsoil is for use in locations that have  low fertility or are acidic or calcareous. Specific purpose topsoil can be specified by one or more of the following criteria:

1) Acidic
2) Calcareous
3) Low fertility
4) Low fertility acidic
5) Low fertility calcareous

Specific topsoils are not appropriate for general landscaping.

The standard illustrates acceptable limits on the Chemical and physical composition. This includes the levels of stone and sharps. BS3882:2007 also provides a comprehensive list of contaminants to be analysed for (and the permissable level for each). This is based on the history of the topsoil source as well as the intended use of the topsoil.

The new standard gives a framework to ensure compliance. However, when buying topsoil, specifiers and users should take into account the intended use to ensure that the characteristics of individual soils are fit for the intended planting.

A full copy of BS3882:2007 is available from:

British Standards Institute
Customer Services Department
Telephone: 0208 996 9001

Download this information as a Topsoil Factsheet

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