Geescroft Wilderness

  • Experiment Code: R/GE/9
  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Objectives: To study the establishment of plants after abandonment of arable cropping and subsequently the accumulation of organic carbon above and below ground.
  • Description: 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.
  • Date Start: 1883
  • Date End: Ongoing


Experimental Design


  • 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).


  • Period: 1847 - Now


Crop Years Grown
Faba Beans1847 - 1878
Bare Fallow1879 - 1883
Clover1883 - 1885
Regeneration to Woodland1886 -


Factors are the interventions or treatments which vary across the experiment.

Liming Exposure

Description: 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).

Application: Whole Plot

Level Name Amount Years Frequency Crop Method Chemical Form Notes


Variable Unit Collection
Material Description Crop
Soil Organic Carbon t/ha infrequent Soil Sample 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 Biomass t/ha infrequent Sample data = organic carbon from 1883, 1904, 1965, 1999 for trees/shrubs, litter and roots.

Site: Geescroft Wilderness - Rothamsted

  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Description: The Geescroft Wilderness at Rothamsted was fenced off in the 1880s and left to revert naturally to woodland. The site had previously been arable for centuries. It is an area of 1.3 ha.
  • Management: 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).
  • Visit Permitted?: No
  • Visiting Arrangments: By arrangement with Dr Andy Macdonald
  • Elevation: 133 Metres
  • Geolocation:    51.802193, -0.36036


  • Type: Chromic Luvisol
    Batcombe soil series, silty clay loam surface overlying clay-with-flints, overlying chalk at a depth of several meters.

Soil Properties

Variable Value Reference Year Is Estimated Is Baseline
Soil pH 4.4 () 1999 NO NO
Soil pH 7.1 () 1183 NO NO
Clay content 22.5% (Percent) NO NO
Clay content 55% (Percent) NO NO

Datasets available

Geescroft wilderness accumulation of organic carbon
Soil data The accumulation of organic carbon in soil and tree biomass has been measured on two contrasting sites at Rothamsted that were fenced off in the 1880s and left to revert naturally to woodland. Geescroft, on acidic soil and Broadbalk Wilderness, on calcareous soil.
Additional data is available through e-RAdata. Please register for access.

Picture Gallery

Key References


  • 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 - Academic Press), Vol 55, Chapter 1, pp. 3-42
    DOI: 10.1016/bs.aecr.2016.08.002


  • 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
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2389.2008.01025.x


  • 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
    DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2486.2003.00633.x


  • 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
    DOI: 10.1023/A:1015731530498


  • 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
    DOI: 10.1016/S0006-3207(01)00072-6


  • 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
    DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2389.1999.00253.x


  • 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) - Springer-Verlag, Berlin), Vol 38, 385-389
  • Kerr, G. , Harmer, R. and Moss, S. R. (1996) "Natural colonisation: a study of Broadbalk Wilderness", Aspects of Applied Biology, 25-32



  • Garner, H. V. , Witts, K. J. , King, D. W. , Jenkinson, D. S. , Yuen, P. H. and Skinner, F. A. (1965) "Broadbalk Wilderness", Rothamsted Experimental Station Report for 1964
    Get from eRAdoc: ResReport1964-219-224


  • Lawes, J. B. (1895) "Upon some properties of soils, which have grown a cereal crop and a leguminous crop for many years in succession. ", Agricultural Students' Gazette, New Series, 7, 65-72 (Series 1/91)

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