WOSSAC® Archive

Archive Development

The WOSSAC Archive is based at Cranfield University, UK. The archive itself comprises many parts. We have the soil reports section, the soil maps and albums section, a soil books section, an aerial photography section, the soil thin section collection, and a satellite imagery section.

We are constantly seeking the ways and means to improve and develop the WOSSAC facilities. As the former Silsoe College was merged into the University's Cranfield campus, the collection was migrated from the former Silsoe campus to the new Cranfield campus. As part of this, the facilities provided were greatly improved.

Most significantly, following a substantive commitment from Cranfield University, a building programme was recently completed to develop a custom-built facility on-campus, the 'agri-informatics building' B121. This, for the first time, draws together all the principle components of the archive, which until now have necessarily been distributed for space reasons. This has entailed a significant investment and indeed commitment to the archive by the university. The building work, which commenced in 2019, took some 2 years for completion and culminated in a grand opening ceremony in June 2021 with Defra Minister George Eustice MP.

The WOSSAC Archive holds extensive materials for countries and territories worldwide - some countries of which are represented with a better depth of coverage and representation than others. Statistics are provided, providing the list of these countries and territories and the number of holdings for each. The map below portrays the global coverage of the WOSSAC holdings - georeferenced holdings being denoted by a dot on the map. To see the items represented in more detail on a map, you can also try our map search tool.

WOSSAC facility
WOSSAC holdings by territory

Sampler of archive materials

The WOSSAC archive contains a broad spectrum of soils and natural resource materials from around the world. These include items which are of historic importance; documents which still remain the only systematic survey records from many areas; and valuable laboratory data which provides time-referenced benchmarks. Below are some examples of these documents which provide an insight into the diversity of materials held within WOSSAC. The index numbers relate to the WOSSAC item coding system, and the thumbnail sketch indicates why these documents are conserved.

Wales: An example of legacy data

This collection of typed and hand-written soil reports for the Anglesey area is dated from between 1912 and 1935 and includes eighty-eight map sheets in total collected within a binder. The sheets are generally in good condition, can be clearly read, and show little sign of damage.

The map sheets contain information on the environment around the soil sampling site, including: soil reference number, locality, geological data, collectors' identity (initials mainly), and dates of collection. Also presented are the data from the laboratory analysis of the soil samples for different soil horizons which includes both mechanical and chemical analysis results in considerable detail.

Contributors to the sheets are: Hughes, D.O., Prof. G.W. Robinson, Hugh. H. Hughes, and F. Strokdale.

Soils of Ceylon: Historical Records

The archive includes two historically important texts prepared before independence and the county became Sri Lanka.

Joachim A.W.R. (1945) Progress in the study of soils of Ceylon: Agriculture and Forestry. Reprinted from the Journal of Ceylon Association of Science, Part III, October 1945.

A small booklet of 13 typed sheets contains a summary of surveys of Ceylon conducted prior to 1945. The paper covers the topics of soil classification and the suitability of areas for development with a discussion on crops suited to each soil type. Included is a summary overview soil map of the island and a table of the soil groups and series with associated observations on environment, geology, vegetation, and chemical analyses.

Soils of China: An Historical Record and Early Soil Classification

Thorp, J. (1935), Geographic distribution of the important soils of China. Bulletin of the Geological Society of China. Vol. 14, No. 2. 160pp.

A rare booklet published in an academic journal in 1935, contains 160 typed sheets of soil type descriptions; an illustrated provisional soil map of China; and seven plates of black and white photos (sample sites and landscapes of interest with descriptions). This is a ‘classic’ publication as it affected the development of USDA classifications of subtropical soils.

British soils: A Historical Snapshot

Agricultural Research Council (1950), Soil survey of Great Britain. Soil Survey Research Board, Report No. 1. 27pp. HMSO, London.

This booklet begins with a brief history of early British soil survey initiatives, by G.W. Robinson. There is also a brief review of the classification systems used by the Soil Survey of England and Wales, during the period 1946-1948; and the Soil Survey for Scotland, in the same period. A list of the survey staff working in 1948 is included. This first report of the Soil Survey Research Board sub-divides Britain into Regions and provides descriptions of the soil series encountered within each with a brief history into previous studies in the area. The volume is generally in good condition, but with damage to binding and a torn back cover.

England: Rare Acid Sulphate Soils

Hodge, C.A.H. and Bloomfield, C.J., (1979), A survey of acidity in Wood Walton, Conington and Holme Fen, 1978-79. Unpublished.

This collection of 23 loose sheets typed and held in a folder, is an example of a detailed survey undertaken for a specific purpose. The survey was completed in May 1979 by a surveyor from the Soil Survey of England and Wales (C. Hodge). The purpose of the survey is described as a requirement provides an appropriate agricultural grading for the Wood Walton area. A research scientist (C. Bloomfield), based at the Rothamsted Experimental Station, contributes to this with work and includes a table of pH, sulphates and oxidisable sulphide found at depths of up to 2.5 meters. Maps included show auger bore locations; hand-drawn maps of pH values and classes for the area at different soil depths; and a small-scale map of the fields surveyed and their cropping areas.

UK: An Early National Map

Bridges, E.M., (c.1963), A Soil Map of Great Britain.

A 1:2,000,000 map of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, cut into tiles (perhaps for ease of storage), with legend. Accompanying the map is a small booklet describing the map, and this appears to be an early draft with hand written notes in the margin.

The map itself is not in perfect condition, having been coloured by hand, some place names are illegible and some rough corrections have been made to boundaries. A fascinating insight into the early assessment of UK soils.

England: Early Detailed Soil Mapping-Map and notes for soil profiles in Silsoe area, Bedfordshire

Map and notes for soil profiles in Silsoe area, Bedfordshire.

Two sets of hand-written notes. The first set of notes, dated 6 August 1945, are titled ‘Bedfordshire Profiles’ by an unknown author and comprise descriptions of four survey sites in the Wrest Park area.

The second set of notes, dated 28-29 November 1946, are titled ‘Soil profiles in woodland near Woburn’, written by W.G.D. Walters, and comprises of woodland soil descriptions for two map sheets in Bedfordshire (24-SE and 24-NW).

The map, dated 16 July 1945 is of the Wrest Park estate in Bedfordshire showing labelled locations of 137 reported borings around the grounds, a legend to the labels and locations of soil profiles.

Sudan: Natural Resources Evaluations

Ibrahim, F. N. (1984) Ecological Imbalances in the Republic of the Sudan, with Reference to Desertification in Darfur.

This provides a snapshot of ecological conditions in this remote western region at a time when rainfall decline was making a marked impact. The report is accompanied by four coloured maps at a scale of 1:1M, with numerous photographs. The report is part 215-page of a series published in Bayreuth, Germany. The value of this document is the data provided for an ecologically fragile region already under stress, due to a decreasing rainfall regime.

These documents represent rare examples of early natural resource assessments for the new Southern Sudan nation and are valued documents within the archive.


WOSSAC holdings are kept within the dedicated Cranfield University Agri Informatics Archive facility, which has a controlled temperature and humidity environment, making it highly suitable for the long-term storage of the tens of thousands of paper, film and magnetic-based catalogue items.

The collections comprise significant shelving given to the soil reports and monographs, filed on a country by continent basis. Alongside these reports are shelved our soil books section - containing all the standard texts on soil as well as many rare and unusual books. The books are not currently catalogued; however, this process is soon to be underway as the Cranfield library adopt these references.

The soil maps section is held in a series of map cabinets and map chests, again filed by country in continent. There are a very great many maps and we are still in the process of cataloguing these.

The WOSSAC collection also incorporates some 10,000 magnetic tapes, with contents now transferred to comtemporary media, holding space-borne remote sensing imagery captured since the very first satellite observations for planetary observation were imaged. These tapes come from the former National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), of which Silsoe College, Cranfield was a part. These tapes sit alongside further tapes from the HTSPE collection making the overall collection extremely significant.

Alongside, and associated with WOSSAC, Cranfield University's National Soil Resources Institute, operate a professionally managed soil archive and store. This facility is where the soil samples associated with the production of the National Soil Map of England and Wales are held, along with many thousands of other soil samples associated with the Institute's activities.

Our archive itself is equipped with a range of the latest document capture and scanning technologies to help us capture the materials in electronic form for web-based dissemination. Thanks to the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) for supporting the archive, via grant ‘NE/L012774/1’, ‘Ecosystem Services Databank and Visualisation for Terrestrial Informatics’, we are able to draw upon a BookEye book and document scanner, and a microfilm/microfiche scanner. Cranfield also has large format scanners which allow us to capture maps in digital format as well as film scanners for 35mm photographs.

The BookEye4 Book Scanner, supported by NERC

Long term developments

Significant archives of soil survey reports and other legacy land evaluation documentation exist within the collections of other organizations in Europe and the USA. Specifically, there are collections held in Italy, the Netherlands, France and at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). A key aim of WOSSAC is to develop linkages with these other world databases to create a web of inter-connected land related information specifically soil surveys. To achieve this aim funding is being sought from the major funding agencies to support the ongoing development of WOSSAC and to establish its links with other such major databases.

Other sources of legacy data presently available are listed on this page and this inventory will be updated periodically. Each collection reflects the history and context of the institution which holds the collection. For example, the WOSSAC collection benefits from a strong collection of consultancy reports which are often difficult to obtain as they formed a part of the 'grey literature'. In addition, the WOSSAC collection has a working relationship with a documentary source of reports prepared by the Booker Tate consultancy which has a long history in the plantation industry notably in sugar growing. Maps and documents from such consultancy work would be project orientated and reflect specific purpose of the mapping such as irrigation development or a plantation cropping. By contrast, the FAO collection of maps now released and made available digitally concentrates on global or national mapping projects. Collections held by the French institutions will be especially strong in documentation held in the French language and reflect French territories overseas.

FAO Land and Water Division (NRL) has made an effort to make Soil Legacy data and information available for their users. FAO has uploaded 1,228 soil and land legacy maps (mainly soil maps and also land use, geological and land cover maps). Full downloads are available on-line.

Soil and Land Use Potential Maps of Tanzania

ISRIC holds a core a collection of soil and land related documents held in hard copy and catalogued in a similar way to the WOSSAC. This can be accessed at www.isric.org/content/library. There are several points to make on this resource. Like WOSSAC some of the docs/maps are digitised and it is possible to access the collections held by other libraries such as FAO directly from the ISRIC screen.

France has a rich legacy of overseas soil and natural environment inventory and survey, with many maps and surveys originating from the former colonial era, and the transition in these countries to independence. As with the Commonwealth, these maps and surveys represent a fascinating and often unique record of the environment which can be used for baseline surveys and a variety of contemporary studies.

Booker Tate is a leader in the provision of development, management and technical services to the world of sugar, ethanol, bio-energy and other agribusinesses. The present global technical consultancy grew from the merger of the former companies Booker Agriculture International and Tate and Lyle Agribusiness. Booker Tate has a long history of conducting high quality soil surveys and land resource evaluations, particularly with respect to sugar cane, and its technical staff produced the seminal and invaluable Booker Tropical Soils Manual (Landon et al., 1991). Booker Tate has agreed to enter into a collaboration with WOSSAC, whereby details of non-confidential soil and land resources items presently held in the Booker Tate archive are now listed in the WOSSAC catalogue. The items will continue to be held in the Booker Tate library at Thame, and access to them will be by arrangement with Booker Tate: please contact bob.merry@booker-tate.co.uk, Masters Court, Church Road, Thame, Oxfordshire, OX9 3FA.

An illustration of the value of legacy data has been projects implemented for the UNEP and EU to capture systematically the collections from WOSSAC for the Sudan and Tanzania respectively. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) work in Sudan was supporting the UNEP Sudan Integrated Environment Project for general monitoring and particularly assessment of environmental impacts arising from conflict in the south and west of the country. These materials are now placed online and will contribute to an environmental information system being built to support and develop future environmental and agricultural policies.

In addition Cranfield staff have been involved also in a number of significant EU-sponsored research projects which aim to develop best practices for management and utilization of soil and soil-thematic data, e.g. 'e-SOTER', and 'AEGOS' and the Irish Soil Information System. WOSSAC staff have also been instrumental in creation of the England and Wales Land Information System (LandIS). These projects all draw upon the WOSSAC collection’s holdings.

The Soils of Sabah - WOSSAC item 41205

Programme of Work

The WOSSAC programme of work to date has included the following:

  1. Contact with organisations and individuals regarding report holdings as part of an intensive campaign to identify all soil reports and maps that have been made, and to meet with all principal stakeholders;
  2. Organise the current holdings of reports, surveys and maps. This involves determining methods of cataloguing and archiving to be used and ensuring that they are as consistent with other catalogues, collections and international methodologies as possible. It will be necessary to decide how to link with catalogues and archives of reports and maps already existing in Company and National libraries;
  3. Establish an on-line database and catalogue of all known surveys as well as a physical catalogue and project web presence;
  4. Establish a mechanism for visitors to the collection to consult reports and maps and publish the availability of this service as widely as possible.

Work now underway focusses upon identifying the best means to promote the widest use of and access to the WOSSAC archive. A number of promising technical opportunities present to ensure the collection is revealed to the widest audience. One such example is the prototype placement of WOSSAC materials within the phenomenal 'Google Earth' project (see the News section), and investigations as to using OGC-compliant web-based services such as WMS/WFS to reveal the actual data contents of the archive. There are tens of thousands of maps from all over the world and thousands again of the reports associated with the soil surveys conducted. The process therefore of digitising and scanning the collection remains a major and significant task that will require significant funding. Securing such funding must therefore represent an important next step for the WOSSAC project to enable this next important phase in the ongoing development of the archive. See here for details as to how to support the WOSSAC project.

Another important focus looking forward will be the task of aligning the WOSSAC collection to other major significant and important collections of soil and soil-related surveys worldwide, such as those of EUDASM, ISRIC, IRD, FAO and USDA.

Mount Kilamanjaro. Image credit W.Stephenson

Statistical summary of holdings

Summary for the 25,598 current catalogued WOSSAC Archive Holdings, from 386 territories worldwide.
The earliest catalogued items is from 1848, the latest from 2020.


Catalogued Archive Holdings


Georeferenced maps


Territories represented


Contributors and donors

Details of holdings

Note, only those items recorded in the archive catalogue are presented here, our collection also contains a significant amount of material still undergoing cataloguing; the process of entering further items into the database is an ongoing task. These statistics are generated dynamically from the WOSSAC databases.
Statistics are presented by: Date | Country | Scale

Summary of the archive items shown by survey date

An interactive chart of the dates of the 25,598 catalogued items

Summary of the archive items shown by territory

See the catalogue item count for each of the 386 territories represented in the archive

Note, the country or territory name shown is that which was used at the time of the original survey.

List countries and territories using:    or  

Note, country names may have changed since the survey - select options to view historic and current names. Both names are recorded for each item in the catalogue if you click through to the details page for each item following a search.

Summary of map item scales

See the scales of all catalogued maps

Note, other catalogued items had either maps with no recorded scale, or had no recorded map sheets.