This part-time course is primarily delivered online, with students coming together twice annually for week-long residentials at Cranfield. Funding is available. See Fees and Funding for more information.
The importance of sustainable and resilient soil management has surged in recent years. Soils, and their delivery of critical goods and services, are a fundamental asset for the health, sustainability, and resilience of the terrestrial environment, its ecosystems, as well as the longevity and productivity of society. Recently, there has been widespread recognition from researchers, industry, and policy arenas of the burgeoning pressures faced by soils, and the urgency needed to deploy robust land management strategies to address these. 

Co-designed by UK industry, the Soil Science MSc will equip and upskill organisations with the knowledge, understanding, tools, practices, and resources to achieve optimal soil management. It will deepen your knowledge of soils across diverse land-use contexts, delve into cutting-edge technologies for effective decision-making, showcase best practice in analysing soils on and off site, and help you build the personal competencies you need as a soil scientist.  

On completion of the programme, you will acquire a Master’s Degree in Soil Science. You will also attain Technical Membership of the British Society of Soil Science, and you will be eligible to apply for Chartered Scientist status. 

This page is dedicated to students seeking the Soil Science MSc independent of Apprenticeship Levy funding. If you are looking for more information on our Apprenticeship Levy part-funded routes, please visit Soil Scientist Apprenticeship webpage

 


Overview

  • Start date25 November 2024
  • DurationTwo years part-time
  • DeliveryTaught modules: 120 credits, Reflective portfolio project: 60 credits
  • QualificationMSc
  • Study typePart-time
  • CampusCranfield campus/Online

Who is it for?

The course is suitable for:
  • Soil scientists and consultants, who are keen to upskill their knowledge and understanding of soil monitoring and analysing soil conditions, as well as those who assist farmers in determining soil health and optimizing sustainable management strategies. 
  • Employees of organisations that offer guidance on earthworks, construction and demolition projects, or urban green infrastructure, who are keen to advance their expertise in assessing and mitigating the effects of such works on urban soils.
  • Soil mappers and surveyors who use a combination of digital technology and traditional tools like soil pit digging to evaluate soil types for various stakeholders.
  • Environmental consultants specializing in providing advice on sustainable materials, waste management, biodiversity, flood control, and ecosystem restoration.
  • Government agencies and non-profit organizations that inform soil policy decisions and develop guidance documents.

Why this course?

The course will equip and upskill organisations with the knowledge, understanding, tools, practices, and resources to achieve optimal soil management across both rural and urban settings. 
 
The course aims: 
  • To help students to critically evaluate soil properties and functions, and understand how soils interact with the wider environment to deliver critical ecosystem goods and services. 
  • To allow students to devise effective soil management plans that can integrate the principles of sustainable and resilient land management with the priorities of local and national policy. 
  • To provide students with a wide-ranging toolkit for effective decision-making across different land-use and management contexts, including GIS-based mapping, data analytical skills, field-based techniques, and laboratory analyses. 
  • To empower students to enhance their professional competencies and personal development in order to build the next generation of soil scientists ready to address the needs of internal and external stakeholders and tackle grand and complex challenges. 

Informed by industry

This course has been co-designed with Arcadis, Askew Land and Soil, Atkins Limited, British Society of Soil Science, Cornwall College Group, ERS, Land Research Associates, Natural England, RSK ADAS, Tim O’Hare Associates, Wardell Armstrong, WPS Compliance Consultants, Defra, and Society for the Environment.

Course details

The course comprises 12 taught modules and a reflective portfolio project. It will be primarily delivered online from Cranfield University’s new state-of-the-art teaching studio which allows students to engage interactively within a virtual classroom. This will also enable wide and diverse participation across the UK. Modules are evenly spread throughout the two years and will primarily be delivered live on Tuesdays. 
 
Four modules (two in Year 1 and two in Year 2) will include one-week Residentials at Cranfield, where field-based and laboratory-based skills can be best demonstrated. This will provide ideal opportunities throughout the course for the cohort to get to know each other, network with academics and industry representatives, and create enduring supportive alumni groups. 
 
Throughout the course, you will also work on an individual reflective portfolio which will draw upon the knowledge, understanding, skills and behaviours that you accrue throughout the taught modules. This will provide an opportunity to demonstrate that you can apply the learning from the course in a practical real-world scenario.

Course delivery

Taught modules: 120 credits, Reflective portfolio project: 60 credits

Modules

Keeping our courses up-to-date and current requires constant innovation and change. The modules we offer reflect the needs of business and industry and the research interests of our staff and, as a result, may change or be withdrawn due to research developments, legislation changes or for a variety of other reasons. Changes may also be designed to improve the student learning experience or to respond to feedback from students, external examiners, accreditation bodies and industrial advisory panels.

To give you a taster, we have listed the compulsory and elective (where applicable) modules which are currently affiliated with this course. All modules are indicative only, and may be subject to change for your year of entry.


Course modules

Compulsory modules
All the modules in the following list need to be taken as part of this course.

Project Management and Portfolio

Module Leader
  • Dr Daniel Evans
Aim

    This module aims to empower learners in critically self-reflecting on their professional competency and personal development as soil scientists. By synthesizing and reinforcing the knowledge, skills, and behaviours acquired throughout the course, learners will compile a portfolio of work: they will design a new soil science field laboratory. This exercise will encourage the reinforcement and real-world application of learning from other modules within the course, to progressively foster a holistic understanding of soil science and its practical implications. The module will also include modular self-assessment of competency and personal development via guided reflection sessions, and practical workshops for portfolio development. By undertaking this module, learners will develop heightened self-awareness, an integrated understanding of soil science, effective communication skills, and overall professional growth. The module seeks to produce soil scientists capable of applying their knowledge in real-world scenarios, contributing to ongoing learning and development in their careers.

Syllabus
    Competency Building Sessions 
    Mindset behaviours of a soil scientist including:
    • Dialogue circles and working collaboratively 
    • Confidentiality 
    • Empathy with stakeholders
    • Ethical considerations and reporting 
    • Responsibilities of a soil scientist
    • Thinking innovatively
    • Adaptation 
    • Resilience
    Reflective portfolio will ask learners to simulate the development of a new (fictitious) soil science field laboratory including: (i) stakeholder mapping exercise (drawing on modules 2 and 3); (ii) shortlisting optimum locations for the laboratory based on variety of data (drawing on modules 2 and 4); (iii) surveying methodology to finalize location (drawing on modules 5, 6, 7, 11 and 12); (iv) identifying strategic activities of the field laboratory (drawing on modules 8, 9, and 10); and (v) a ‘soil scientist’ job description (drawing on ‘mindset behaviours’ earlier in this module). 
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Create a Stakeholder Matrix demonstrating the influence and interest that different sectors would have in a new soil science field laboratory.
  • Evaluate optimum locations for a new soil science field laboratory based on a desk-based analyses of different environmental data.
  • Devise and justify a hypothetical soil survey to further assess these optimum locations.
  • Justify and debate the strategic research priorities that a new soil science field laboratory should prioritize.

 

Introduction to Soils

Module Leader
  • Dr Daniel Evans
Aim

    To ensure that the use and management of soils is appropriate, effective, and sustainable, fundamental knowledge and understanding of soils is required first. The aim of this module is to introduce the fundamental science of soil systems. It will introduce what soils are and how they are formed, the basic physical, chemical, and biological properties that can be used to characterize soils, and the principal contributions that soils make to supporting the delivery of ecosystem goods and services across both rural and urban contexts. 

Syllabus
    • Factors of soil formation
    • Soil texture, structure, porosity, and bulk density
    • Soil-water interactions 
    • Soil chemistry, to include pH, CEC, salinity, major elements and nutrients
    • Soil organisms: diversity, abundance, functioning
    • The interfaces between soils and the natural environment
    • Soil functions and processes
    • Soil ecosystem goods and services
    • The key differences between rural vs. urban soils
    • Introduction to soil management practices 
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Critique the factors that affect soil formation.
  • Assess the physical, chemical, and biological properties that can be used to characterize soils.
  • Evaluate the role of soils in delivering ecosystem goods and services for rural and urban contexts.

 

Soil Policy

Module Leader
  • Dr Jacqueline Hannam
Aim

    Soil is a non-renewable and essential resource necessary to maintain environmental and societal sustainability. Soil Policy plays a crucial role in ensuring sufficient protection and actions are undertaken within different sectors to ensure sustainable use and management of soils for the benefit of the environment, economy, and society. 

Syllabus
    • Overview of the UK Soil policy landscape including specific Act, Bills, payment schemes, regulations and delivery mechanisms that are linked to sustainable use and management of soils in different sectors such as agriculture, environment and planning
    • Overarching global commitments such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, and the Convention on Biodiversity, and their fit within the UK Policy landscape
    • Soil resource plans that take into consideration the regulatory and legislative requirements at a site level.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Determine and evaluate the soil policy landscape in the UK
  • Assess the different policy, regulation, legislative instruments and delivery mechanisms and their application in different sectors (e.g. agriculture, environment and planning)
  • Appraise the global commitments and frameworks that can inform soil policy 
  • Design a soil resource plan that considers the soil policy context

 

Desk-based Soil Assessments and Basic Statistics

Module Leader
  • Dr Toby Waine
Aim

    Soil scientists are expected to understand and monitor soil functions and assess how soil properties change over time in response to other environmental changes. A desk-based assessment is essential to collect and critically assess available soil data, to inform decisions or proposed approaches for future surveys.  

Syllabus
    • Introduction to Soil Mapping and data sources.
    • What does a Desk based Soil Assessment (DBSA) look like and how to do it.
    • Introduction to data handling, analysis, and statistics (e.g. Anova, Student’s T Test, Mann Whitney U Test).
    • Understanding stakeholder priorities and requirements when conducting a DBSA.
    • Conducting a DBSA assignment.
    • Presenting a DBSA to a stakeholder.
    • Technical writing for clients. 
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Identify and evaluate different sources of soils data for soil mapping, including: soil maps, laboratory results, drainage, groundwater, geology, landcover and land use, ecosystem function, carbon stocks, elevation, and slope. 
  • Process and interpret data to inform future land management decisions or surveys.
  • Devise a desk-based soil assessment and present recommendations to clients.

 

Soil Surveying

Module Leader
  • Dr Lynda Deeks
Aim

    A soil survey is an inventory of the properties of the soil (such as texture, structure, internal drainage, depth to water table, stoniness, density and contamination). It provides a detailed insight into the characteristics of a parcel of land and the distribution of soil resources across a site. A soil survey defines the quality of the resource and can reveal anomalies at an earlier stage in land development allowing better budgeting. In the construction industry a soil survey helps quantify groundwork requirements for storage, reuse or requirements for disposal. In an agricultural context a soil survey informs which crops the land will best support, whether irrigation or drainage will be require and likely number of workdays the land will support. Soil surveys can also support environmental projects helping to make informed decisions about land use and how to protect the soil and wider environment.  An ability to be able to undertake and interpret soil surveys enables better use and protection of a valuable non-renewable resource. Therefore, the aim of this module is to develop the necessary skills to conduct soil surveys, plan a field-based sampling regime, and make use of secondary datasets available for reconnaissance / additional survey support, for anyone involved with soil related projects (agricultural, construction or environmental).

Syllabus
    Soil survey 
    • Historical context: who used and for what purpose
    • Relevance to protecting a non-renewable resource
    • Relevance to legislation, environmental and economic factors
    • Meeting project objective
    • Designing a soil survey (e.g. land access)
    Soil survey methodology
    • Desk-based baseline survey: handling confidential and pre-existing data
    • Field data collection: understanding what data is required
    • Sampling strategies: current recommendations including geostatistics and replications.
    • Sample analysis: What data is useful to collect
    Soil Resource Plan (SRP)
    • Soil resource survey (SRS): understanding and designing a SRS
    • Developing a SRP
    • Relevant legislation
    Agricultural Land Classification (ALC)
    • Assessing quality of the land for agriculture and to inform decisions on development and construction.
    • Critical interpretation and preparation of an ALC report
    Soil Management Plan
    • Interpreting and preparing management guidance from a soil survey
    • Relevant legislation for Soil Management Plans
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Interpret and appraise a Soil Management Plan and Agricultural Land Classification report.
  • Formulate the components required to complete a soil survey.
  • Design a soil survey for a site that meets project objectives and the landscape context.

 

Field-based Methods for Rural Soils

Module Leader
  • Dr Christopher McCloskey
Aim

    Field surveys and sampling programmes are essential for soil monitoring and assessment in the agricultural sector and in broader rural soil management. This includes a thorough understanding of how to classify soils, monitor soil nutrient levels and carbon stocks, and assess greenhouse gas fluxes. This module will equip learners with the knowledge and skills needed to conduct field soil measurements, hands-on experience in doing so, and an understanding of how soil conditions are influenced by landscape processes, management practices and climate.

Syllabus
    • Planning and conducting a soil sampling/monitoring regime specific to agricultural and other rural land uses
    • Health and safety when working in the field and how to prepare Risk Assessment and Method Statements (RAMS)
    • Carrying out fundamental field soil tests, including sample collection, soil classification, monitoring of soil physical properties (e.g. bulk density, compaction, infiltration, soil moisture content) and measurement of greenhouse gas fluxes
    • How soil conditions are affected by land use, climate, and landscape-scale processes
    • Analysis of field data
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Devise and lead field-based surveys to collect in-situ soil data in an agricultural/rural context
  • Evaluate the implication of health and safety, relevant legislation, and social, economic and environmental factors and compose Risk Assessment and Method Statements (RAMS)
  • Devise and lead a soil sampling campaign to a specified standard to allow measurements of soil nutrients and carbon stocks, soil physical properties, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil classification.
  • Relate in-field soil conditions to the relationships between soil and landscape, land use and climate
  • Analyse and interpret results from field surveys to draw robust conclusions and identify the limitations of the results and the context within which they apply.

Fundamental Laboratory Methods in Soil Science

Module Leader
  • Dr Mark Pawlett
Aim

    Soil scientists are required to understand laboratory methodologies such that they can acquire, interpret, and critically evaluate laboratory data.  This module aims to you teach basic laboratory methodologies, with an emphasis towards gaining a practical understanding of the methods.  The module will also provide you with an understanding of data quality. This is required to understand the condition of soils, but also to monitor aspects of quality and health and ultimately to provide guidance and consultancy to stakeholders.

Syllabus
    • The laboratory environment, the importance of health and safety, COSHH and Risk Assessments. 
    • How to check data accuracy and reliability (e.g., limits of detection, importance of blanks, QC checks, standard curves, and the importance of matrix matching).
    • Nutrient management and neutrality, carbon accounting, greenhouse gas emission assessment and monitoring, pollution assessments and control, food risk and natural capital accounting. 
    • Resource planning (financial, non-financial, time management) and commercial awareness.
    • Indicative laboratory demonstrations: soil physical characteristics (bulk density, texture, structure), macro and micronutrients, soil moisture, pH, conductivity, loss on ignition.  
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Implement Standard Operating Procedures ensuring Health and Safety protocols are followed.
  • Appraise and review limitations of basic laboratory methods.
  • Critically evaluate basic soil property data for quality control. 
  • Analyse, interpret and communicate acquired data to technical and non-technical audiences.  

 

Soils - a Nexus

Module Leader
  • Dr Christopher McCloskey
Aim

    Soil properties and functioning are shaped by the interactions with the atmosphere, water, plants and animals (here termed the ‘soil nexus’). An understanding of these interactions is essential for informing soil- and broader land management. This module will build upon the Introduction to Soils module and take a systems-based approach to provide you with a strong knowledge base in the fundamental science underpinning these interactions and how they regulate soil functions. It will explore soil systems’ delivery of ecosystem goods and services and threats facing the ability of the soil nexus to deliver these, alongside how soil interactions with the broader environment can build resilience in soil systems. You will develop their ability to critically analyse factors affecting soil properties and processes using a systems perspective and holistic approach.

Syllabus
    • Systems approaches to soil science.
    • The interactions of soils with the atmosphere, water, plants, microbes and animals (the ‘soil nexus’).
    • Greenhouse gas fluxes and soils.
    • Delivery of ecosystem goods and services by soils in the context of the soil nexus
    • Management implications of the soil nexus.
    • Threats to the functioning of soils in the context of the interrelations of the soil. nexus, to include climate change, loss of organic matter, compaction and erosion.
    • Resilience of soil systems.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Appraise the interrelations between soils and the atmosphere, water, plants, microbes and animals.
  • Debate how these interactions can build soil health and resilience.
  • Evaluate the management implications of interactions between soils and the broader environment.
  • Assess the ecosystem goods and services delivered by soil systems and evaluate how their capacity to deliver such goods and services are affected by threats to the functioning of interactions between soils and the broader environment.
     
     

 

Soil Mapping, Modelling and GIS

Module Leader
  • Dr Joanna Zawadzka
Aim

    Traditional soil surveys can be time and cost consuming and are subject to errors that cannot be quantified. Numerical modelling methods, coupled with GIS, can offer a rapid and cost-effective way of producing maps of soil classes and properties that can be evaluated in terms of their accuracy, and can inform traditional soil surveys. Generation of such maps must be underpinned with the capability of spatial data management within a GIS environment. Such skills can then be transferred to soil assessments to determine a soil’s contribution to natural capital and ecosystem services.   

Syllabus
    • Fundamentals of GIS, Remote Sensing, and Earth Observation data
    • Fundamentals of modelling with model validation and accuracy assessment
    • Primary and secondary data for soil modelling
    • Digital terrain analysis 
    • Digital soil mapping
    • Natural Capital and ecosystem services assessment
    • Flood risk assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Appraise the validity of data required for soil mapping and modelling.
  • Devise an appropriate spatial analysis for soil mapping and modelling.
  • Evaluate the outcome of spatially explicit modelling approaches.
  • Appraise natural capital mapping and modelling techniques.  

 

Advanced Data Analysis and Statistics

Module Leader
  • Professor Ronald Corstanje
Aim
    The aim of this module is to provide you with the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to conduct advanced data analysis and statistics in soil science. You will learn to assess data accuracy, precision, and reliability, considering bias and sampling designs. The R programming language will be introduced for statistical analysis of soils data. Specific topics include exploratory data analysis and long-term time series analysis to identify patterns and trends in soil properties. You will also learn to present analyses through tables, textual summaries, and effective visualisations. The module focuses on enhancing communication skills with the creation of storyboards, ensuring students can convey findings clearly.
Syllabus
    • Assessing data accuracy, precision, reliability, through an understanding of bias and sampling designs. 
    • Using the R programming language. 
    • Protocols of data handling and analysis. 
    • Exploratory and long-term time series analysis. 
    • Presenting data analyses. 
    • Communication of results via visualisation and storyboards.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Evaluate the accuracy, precision, and reliability of soil datasets. 
  • Deploy the R programming language for the manipulation, analysis, and visualisation of soils data. 
  • Investigate soils data using statistical methods and models to inform and improve soil management for clients. 
  • Disseminate data analysis outputs effectively through creative visualisation and storytelling. 

 

Field-based Methods for Urban Soils

Module Leader
  • Professor Wilfred Otten
Aim

    Urban soils are a critical part of the landscape and deliver a great variety of services often distinct from other soils. This module will equip learners with the knowledge of the importance of soils in urban settings and equips them with skills to assess urban soils in the field, and how these soils relate to goods and services.

Syllabus
    • Key challenges facing urban soils
    • Decisions when developing urban areas on topics related to soils
    • Designing and planning field work in urban settings
    • Assessing risk when planning field work in urban settings
    • Soil resource plans
    • Carrying out field sampling in various soils in different urban environments.
    • Analysis, interpretation and reporting of field data
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Design, plan and conduct a field assessment of urban soils.
  • Assess the challenges and regulations associated with engineered soils in urban settings.
  • Evaluate guidelines for selecting soils for engineering in urban environments.
  • Relate field measurements to urban soil functioning.
  • Analyse, interpret and report results from field measurements of urban soils.
     

 

Advanced Laboratory Methods in Soil Science

Module Leader
  • Dr Mark Pawlett
Aim
    Building on module 7, this module aims to teach you laboratory methodologies in advanced soil analysis, with an emphasis towards gaining a practical understanding of these methods.  The module will develop your understanding about assessing data quality. This is required to understand the condition of soils, but also to monitor aspects of quality and health and ultimately to provide guidance and consultancy to stakeholders.
Syllabus
    • Lectures will build on the fundamental laboratory methods in soil science and will develop learner’s understanding of the laboratory environment, and their ability to implement standard operating procedures of advanced analyses. 
    • Writing COSHH and Risk Assessments, focusing on contaminated soils from urban environments.  
    • Advanced soil physical characteristics such as stone-corrected bulk density, soil water including field capacity and wilting point, organic and inorganic C fractions of SOM, contaminants including heavy metals, and soil biology such as microbial biomass, respiration, and microbial community phenotype using phospholipid fatty acid analysis. 
    • Data quality 
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Implement laboratory Standard Operating Procedures and Health and Safety protocols for complex laboratory analyses.
  • Articulate and review the limitations of advanced laboratory methods.
  • Critically evaluate complex soil property data for quality control. 
  • Analyse, interpret and communicate acquired data to technical and non-technical audiences.  
     

 

Sustainable and Resilient Land Management

Module Leader
  • Dr Michail Giannitsopoulos
Aim
    Land degradation adversely affects all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Soil policies and practices aim to protect and enhance our soil resources, so that they are resilient in delivering multiple ecosystem goods and services to society, delivering all three pillars of sustainability (economic, environmental, and social). The aim of this module is to define soil resilience and sustainability, and how these can be achieved by appropriate, cost-effective, and innovative land management practices that both control environmental damages (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, contamination) and enhance soil natural capital (e.g. soil amendments, drainage). The module considers different land-use sectors (agriculture, horticulture, forestry, archaeology, construction, and natural habitats), set in the context of a rapidly changing environment
Syllabus
    • Soils in the context of climate change
    • Principles of Sustainability and Resilience in Land Management
      Assessing and monitoring soil resilience 
      Soils and the delivery of ecosystem services
    • Soil degradation and threats to soil sustainability and resilience
      Nutrient neutrality
      Assessing GHG emissions
      GHG budgeting exercise
      Soil contamination and remediation
    • Management practices to enhance soil resilience and sustainability.
      Response of soils to different management approaches
      Soil amendments
      Soil carbon sequestration and storage
      Land drainage design
      Land management economics: horticulture; forestry; construction; habitat creation
      Remediation of soil mismanagement
      Sustainable soil management in a changing climate for business; society; ecology
      Innovative methods in soil management
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Analyse the concepts of soil resilience and sustainability in the context of soil policies and environmental change
  • Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of different land management practices to control soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions and enhance natural capital in a variety of land-use settings.
  • Create sustainable land resource / soil management plans that apply a systematic approach to solving problems.
     

 

Accreditation

This course aligns with British Society of Soil Science for technical membership. The apprenticeship will align with the requirements for membership with British Society of Soil Science. Those enrolling for the apprenticeship will be able to apply for Early Careers membership of the Society which will automatically change to technical membership upon demonstration of successful completion of the apprenticeship.

How to apply

Click on the ‘Apply now’ button below to start your online application.

See our Application guide for information on our application process and entry requirements.

For queries relating to…

Applications for the Soil Scientist Apprenticeship route have to come via the Expression of Interest form.  Apprenticeship applications received via the application button on the non-apprenticeship pages will not be processed.

Deadlines

Expression of interest deadline: 2 September 2024 

Application deadline: 16 September 2024