Highfield Conversion Experiment

  • Experiment Code: R/CS/767
  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Objectives: To study the effects of changes in agricultural land use and management on crop production and soil physical, chemical and biological parameters, including soil organic matter and structure, soil fauna and microbial diversity; originally long-term grass (>100 years)
  • Description: In 2008 two plots (continuous grass and arable) within each block of the Highfield Ley-Arable experiment were split to establish grass, arable and bare-fallow treatments within each. Adjacent long-term bare-fallow areas were also included in the experiment. Soil samples are taken regularly and yields are taken annually. Many archived samples are available. It is the only site at Rothamsted available for studying the effects of converting long-term grass to arable and bare-fallow treatments on Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), fertility, soil resilience and recovery. The experiment has support from several groups within Rothamsted, providing a resource for multidisciplinary research, from analytical chemistry, soil physical structure, GHG emissions and nitrification potential, microbial and mesofauna community responses to management change. It is probably unique in that it examines soil resilience and restoration through plants.
  • Date Start: 2008
  • Date End: Ongoing


  • The e-RA database, including the published datasets generated from it, is part of the Rothamsted Long-Term Experiments - National Bioscience Research Infrastructure (RLTE-NBRI) , which also includes the Long-Term Experiments, the Sample Archive and Rothamsted's environmental monitoring activities including the weather stations and its role in the UK Environmental Change Network.
  • The RLTE-NBRI is supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Grants BBS/E/C/00005189 (2012-2017); BBS/E/C/000J0300 (2017-2022); BBS/E/RH/23NB0007 (2023-2028)).

Experimental Design


  • In October 2008, 10 × 6 m areas within the existing bare fallow, arable and grassland plots on the Highfield/Geescroft site of Rothamsted farm were converted to one of the alternative treatments. Plots were subdivided in a randomized block design to provide three plots for each permanent and conversion treatment. All plots except those remaining as permanent grassland were ploughed (standard depth, 23 cm)


  • Period: 2008 - Now
  • Experiment Design Type: Randomized complete block design
  • Number of Blocks: 3
  • Number of Plots: 27
  • Number of Harvests per Year: 1


Crop Years Grown


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

Cropping System

Application: Sub Plot

Level Name Amount Years Frequency Crop Method Chemical Form Notes
Permanent Grass -
Permanent Grass Converted to Arable -
Permanent Grass Converted to Bare Fallow -
Arable Converted to Grass -
Continuous Arable -
Arable Converted to Bare Fallow -
Bare Fallow Converted to Grass -
Bare Fallow Converted to Arable -
Continuous Bare Fallow -

Site: Highfield - Rothamsted

  • Experiment Site: Rothamsted
  • Description: Previously part of the Highfield Ley-Arable experiment. The site was originally permanent grassland. The bare fallow plots were started in 1959 and maintained by regular tilling. The arable plots were converted from grassland to continuous arable (wheat) in 1949.
  • Visit Permitted?: Yes
  • Visiting Arrangments: By arrangement with Dr Andy Macdonald
  • Elevation: 130 Metres
  • Geolocation:    51.804307, -0.36268


  • Type: Luvisol

Soil Properties

Variable Value Reference Year Is Estimated Is Baseline
Soil total carbon % (Percent) 2008 NO YES
Total soil nitrogen % (Percent) 2008 NO YES
Soil organic carbon g/cm3 (gram per cubic centimetre) 2008 NO YES
There are currently no prepared datasets online for this experiment. However, there may still be data available but requiring curation. For more information please contact the e-RA curators.


Creative Commons License These media (images and videos) are available under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence (4.0) with attribution to Rothamsted Research.


Key References


  • Hirsch, P.R. , Jhurreea, D. , Williams, J.K. , Murray, P.J. , Scott, T. , Misselbrook, T.H. , Goulding, K.W.T. and Clark, I.M.(2017) "Soil resilience and recovery: rapid community responses to management changes", Plant and Soil, 412, 283-297
    DOI: 10.1007/s11104-016-3068-x


  • Hirsch, P.R. , Gilliam, L.M. , Sohi, S.P. , Williams, J.K. , Clark, I.M. and Murray, P.J.(2009) "Starving the soil of plant inputs for 50 years reduces abundance but not diversity of soil bacterial communities", Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 41, 2021-2024
    DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2009.07.011
We only use analytics cookies on this site. Please refer to our Privacy and cookies policy

For further information and assistance, please contact the e-RA curators, Sarah Perryman and Margaret Glendining using the e-RA email address: era@rothamsted.ac.uk