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Is your soil suitable? Study raises questions over what’s inside what’s on sale


Soil Analysis

Independent research was carried out nationally on 30 topsoil bulk bags from 17 different suppliers bought online and in stores from stockists and direct from producers.

Market Research company, PCP, test-purchased the products and took samples which were sent for analysis at one of the UK’s leading soil testing facilities by Tim O’Hare Associates to find out if they were suitable for use.

Of the 30 samples, 47 per cent (14) were found not to be suitable and did not meet the British Standard for Topsoil1 for a number of reasons – uncommonly high pH levels, high levels of salt concentration, high potassium levels and excessively high sand contents and on one occasion, elevated levels of a known carcinogenic chemical.

The study was commissioned by the Rolawn Group, the Yorkshire-based award-winning producer of topsoil and turf, who are concerned that other businesses are not paying as much attention to the quality of their products, risking serious reputational damage to the industry at large and damaging consumer trust.

Rolawn’s two product samples were among the 16 which were deemed suitable for use as topsoil in general purpose landscaping schemes and residential gardens, and were free from contamination, something they confirm with regular in-house testing.

Independent gardening and horticulture expert David Hurrion says the impact of using unsuitable soil is clear:

“Using poor quality and badly formulated topsoils for general-purpose landscaping or in a domestic garden could prove to be both disastrous and costly in terms of turf or plant establishment and growth. Success rates can be severely compromised and may lead to plant failure in extreme cases.

“Many consumers would no doubt be horrified to discover that the topsoil they have purchased in good faith, often based on the marketing claims of the producer or stockist, was in fact not suitable for use and indeed does not meet British Standards.”

Rolawn’s Chairman and Managing Director, Paul Dawson added: “We suspected that all was not as it seemed with the quality of topsoils, though we were surprised at the high number that are not suitable for use in residential settings. At Rolawn, we strongly believe there should be compulsory independent testing to make sure that what a customer is being told is in a bag is what they receive and that it is fit for purpose.

“The process of self-test to the British Standard is clearly being abused. Rolawn will be presenting a summary of the findings to the Government and Trading Standards and is calling for more frequent and independent testing be done to ensure adequate rules are in place and that those rules are followed. Meanwhile, we intend to keep up our own independent testing programme and reporting on the results.”

Professional soil scientist Tim O’Hare said: “It is important that gardeners and landscapers have confidence that the product they purchase is suitable for the use intended and that they can trust their supplier to deliver this. It is clear from this valuable piece of independent work commissioned by Rolawn and the detailed analysis we have carried out that this is not always the case.

“Given the impact that this can have, it raises the question whether there are enough checks within the industry to ensure standards are being upheld and products are not mis-sold to gardeners, landscapers and builders.”

1 (BS3882:2015)

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Issued by Faith PR on behalf of Rolawn Ltd. For further information or to arrange an interview with Tim O’Hare contact 01484 599886 or email

About Rolawn Ltd
Established in 1975, Rolawn is Europe’s leading producer of premium quality cultivated turf and is also recognised as Britain’s leading supplier of high quality sustainable soft landscaping products, including topsoils, mulches, barks and composts.

Located in the Vale of York, the business supplies clients across the UK, from The Royal Horticultural Society to championship golf courses to national house builders.

Its Medallion® turf has also been incorporated into numerous Gold Medal winning gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and is regularly featured on television and in the media.

About David Hurrion
David has been growing plants for more than 40 years and worked in gardens and nurseries, growing on a range of different soils and in different regions of the UK. His extensive knowledge and practical experience of plants, crops and growing techniques is founded on a thorough botanical and scientific training.

He has spent more than 20 years writing for and editing the nation’s crop of garden magazines and websites, most recently as Deputy and now Associate Editor for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine.

David has appeared on TV and radio, both as a regular contributor and an expert commentator, as well as on in many practical videos. He has designed, built and planted show gardens and display stands at most of the major garden shows in the UK, including the world famous Chelsea Flower Show, and is now a Floral Judge for the Royal Horticultural Society.

David is a popular figure in the horticultural world, well liked and respected for his knowledge by nurserymen, professional gardeners, journalists and the gardening public. As a trained teacher, David has taught a huge diversity of subjects from botany, soil science and plant identification, to propagation, garden design and crop production, and from City & Guilds through to Degree level. He is also a popular speaker with local gardening groups and presents a range of courses and masterclasses at locations around the UK.

About Tim O’Hare
Tim O’Hare Associates LLP is a leading independent Soil Science and Landscape Engineering consultancy. Its services support all elements of land development, management and regeneration, from the initial planning stages, outline and detailed design, through to construction and aftercare. The firm ensures that soils for landscape, green infrastructure, sports amenity, agriculture and land restoration projects are correctly surveyed, specified, tested, sourced, manufactured and managed.

The practice operates throughout the UK and internationally (Europe, USA, Middle East, Far East and Australasia) on commercial and retail developments, major infrastructure projects, housing schemes, parks, historic gardens, allotments, sports facilities, hotel resorts, green roofs, agricultural development, pipeline and mining restoration.

Tim O’Hare Associates also advises government departments, national institutions and agencies through the preparation of standards, strategies and codes of practice on soil management and specification.