Geescroft Wilderness

Local identifier
Years operational
To study the establishment of plants after abandonment of arable cropping and subsequently the accumulation of organic carbon above and below ground.
The Geescroft Wildernesses site at Rothamsted was 'fenced off' in the 1880's and left to revert naturally to woodland. The site had previously been arable for centuries. It is an acidic site (in contrast to the calcareous Broadbalk Wilderness). Although not an experiment in the usual sense, it is of great value, especially for looking at long-term changes in soil and regeneration of woodland vegetation. Geescroft Wilderness is an ECN (Environmental Change Network) site and is surveyed every 3 years.
Data Access Statement
Available to any researcher on request
Data license
Data URL
Data policy
Yes (not online)
Rothamsted Research
research organisation
Environmental change Network
research organisation

Site: Geescroft Wilderness

research station field
United Kingdom
Geographic location
51.802193, -0.36036
© OpenStreetMap contributors
133 Metres
Visits permitted?
Visiting arrangements
By arrangement with Dr Andy Gregory, LTE Manager
The Geescroft Wilderness at Rothamsted was left to revert naturally to woodland in 1886. The site had previously been arable for centuries, most recently with field beans 1847-1878, bare fallow 1879-1883 and clover 1883-1885. It is an area of 1.3 ha.
Small amounts of chalk were applied in the 1840s-1880s, and the soil is now acidic (pH fell from 7.1 in 1883 to 4.4 in 1999).
Soil type
Chromic Luvisol
Soil description
Batcombe soil series, silty clay loam surface overlying clay-with-flints, overlying chalk at a depth of several meters.
Soil properties
VariableDepthValue (range)UnitsRef yearEstimated?Baseline?
soil pH 4.4 1999
soil pH 7.1 1183
clay content0 – 23 Centimetres22.5 (20 – 25) Percent
clay content – 1 Metres55 (50 – 60) Percent

Design period: Whole period (1847—)

This acidic site, Geescroft Wilderness, is now a deciduous wood dominated by oak (Quercus robur), with an understory of holly (Ilex aquafolium). Because the soil is so acidic, there are few ground cover species, and there is a permanent litter layer (in contrast to the Broadbalk Wilderness, where each year's litter decomposes).
CropYears grown
Regeneration to woodland 1886—
Factor name
Factor levels
liming exposure
Small amounts of chalk were applied in the 1840s-1880s, and the soil is now acidic (pH fell from 7.1 in 1883 to 4.4 in 1999).
Plot application: Whole plot
soil organic carbonSoilt/hainfrequentSample data for 1883, 1904, 1965, 1999 (comprising 8, 2, 4, 8 separate samples respectively). Other physical samples available in sample archive (1963, 1964, 1969, 1990, 1991, 1992)
plant biomassNot specifiedt/hainfrequentSample data = organic carbon from 1883, 1904, 1965, 1999 for trees/shrubs, litter and roots.

Related publications

  • Jenkinson, D. S. (1971). The accumulation of organic matter in soil left uncultivated. Rothamsted Experimental Station Report for 1970 , Part 2, 113-137
  • Poulton, P. R. (1996) "Geescroft Wilderness, 1883-1995", NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Evaluation of soil organic matter models using existing long-term datasets, NATO ASI Series I: Global Environmental Change, (Powlson D. S. , Smith P. and Smith J.U. (eds)), Vol 38, 385-389
  • • Blake, L. , Goulding, K. W. T. , Johnston, A. E. and Mott, C. J. B. (1999) "Changes in soil chemistry accompanying acidification over more than 100 years under woodland and grass at Rothamsted Experimental Station, UK", European Journal of Soil Science, 50, 401-412
  • Harmer, R. , Peterken, G. , Kerr, G. and Poulton, P. (2001) "Vegetation changes during 100 years of development of two secondary woodlands on abandoned arable land", Biological Conservation, 101, 291-304
  • Pye, E. (2002) "Investigation of woodland regeneration within two Wilderness areas. PhD thesis", University of Hertfordshire.
  • • Blake, L. and Goulding, K. W. T. (2002) "Effects of atmospheric deposition, soil pH and acidification on heavy metal contents in soils and vegetation of semi-natural ecosystems at Rothamsted Experimental Station, UK", Plant and Soil, 240, 235-251
  • Poulton, P. R. , Pye, E. , Hargreaves, P. R. and Jenkinson, D. S. (2003) "Accumulation of carbon and nitrogen by old arable land reverting to woodland", Global Change Biology, 9, 942-955
  • Jenkinson, D. S. , Poulton, P. R. and Bryant, C. (2008) "The turnover of organic carbon in subsoils. Part 1. Natural and bomb radiocarbon in soil profiles from the Rothamsted long-term field experiments", European Journal of Soil Science, 59, 391-399
  • J. Storkey , A.J. Macdonald , J.R. Bell , I.M. Clark , A.S. Gregory , N.J. Hawkins , P.R. Hirsch , L.C. Todman and Whitmore, A. P. (2016) "The Unique Contribution of Rothamsted to Ecological Research at Large Temporal Scales.", Advances in Ecological Research (eds: A.J. Dumbrell , R.L. Kordas and G. Woodward), Vol 55, Chapter 1, pp. 3-42
  • Open Access data: Geescroft wilderness accumulation of organic carbon