% Bare soil

Soil health indicator: % of bare ground

Basal ground cover is a measure of the proportion of the ground that is exposed to the sun, wind and rain – which is an indication of your soil’s risk of erosion and drought.

Basal cover refers to the proportion of the ground covered by plants going into the soil, rather than ground only covered by canopy or foliage (foliar cover). This means you only measure ground cover when there is plant matter going into the ground, so we use a line transect and a stick for our recording.

What to record

A choice of options – what your stick hits along a transect:

Bare soil

Forbs (broadleaves & herbs)


Ground litter



Notes: anything interesting you’ve noticed!



A smartphone (with Sectormentor downloaded)

60m measuring tape (optional)

How to do the test

1. Starting at a relevant sample bay or  GPS mapped sample site, move along a 60m transect line – this can be a 60m distance along your row (you can use a measuring tape to measure out 60m, or measure the length in feet).

2. Walking along your line transect, stick a post / walking stick (or use your foot) into the ground ever 2 feet (or 60cm), and identify what is going into the ground at this point.

3. Identify whether your stick is hitting bare ground, or touching  a forb (broadleaf / herb), grass, ground litter / mulch, legume or undesirable. N.B. You should only record the result as a plant cover if your post is touching the stem of the plant going into the soil – i.e. not an outer leaf or stem partly covering the soil (see reference below for further detail on this)

4. Continue these steps as you move along your transect, or as far as your row will allow you to. Ideally, you should do 100 of these individual readings along your transect to get a good average, so this is a good test to enlist some help for!