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BS3882 Topsoil

What is BS3882 Topsoil?

Confused about topsoil? This article explains about the standards used to certify it, and what you can expect from a top soil that is certified to BS3882, the British Standard for topsoil.

BS3882 standards are set out by the British Standards Institute (BSI). The standard was revised in 2007 (BS3882:2007), replacing the old 1994 standard. It is intended for use for topsoils that are imported or traded, and not for ordinary garden topsoil remaining in your garden. In other words, it’s only for topsoils that you can buy. This is because some soils don’t survive transporting and mechanical handling, which can damage their structure irreversibly.

The 1994 standard specified three grades: economy, general purpose and premium. Many people felt that the premium was over-specified, since it had to be natural topsoil only, and the economy grade was basically subsoil, rather than topsoil. The new standard is an evolution rather than a revolution. It treats manufactured and natural topsoil as the same, and requires them to be the same quality.

BS3882:2007 sets out only two grades: multipurpose and specific purpose. Multipurpose is suitable for most gardening projects. Specific purpose is designed only for those projects which have very specific needs, such as acidic soil, calcareous soil or low fertility. These soils, however, are not suitable for general landscaping, and should only be used with careful and professional advice.

The standard also sets out information about how topsoil should be sampled to check its composition, and how it should be stored, handled and prepared for use. Topsoil suppliers are required to keep it segregated from building materials to avoid contamination.  

Certified topsoil must have passed specific analysis parameters to prove:

  • Fertility,
  • Free from contamination
  • Soil Structure and Classification

The standard also sets out how the land should be treated to ensure that it does not get eroded after removal of topsoil.

Topsoil suppliers are also required by the standard to declare the results of topsoil analysis before selling. This declaration needs to include:

1)      where the topsoil came from, and the previous and current land use for natural soils;

2)      the date of sampling and analysis;

3)      all the results of analytical tests, including contamination parameters; and

4)      written confirmation that the soil complies with the standard BS3882:2007, and that it is the grade specified, whether multipurpose or specific purpose.

When you buy topsoil, whether in bulk or in smaller bags, from topsoil suppliers, you should always check whether the topsoil that they supply is certified to BS3882 or not. Since BS3882 only has a single specification for multipurpose topsoil, it covers a wide range of soils, so you should try to look at topsoil before buying. However, if you can’t, topsoil certified to BS3882 at least gives you a guarantee of its quality, and information about the analysis carried out.

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