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Determining slope and soil texture

This fact sheet provides guidance for landholders on determining the slope and soil texture of their land.

Estimating slope

Slope can be expressed in a number of ways. One is a percentage which can also be converted to the amount of fall over a 100 metre distance. The table below shows the conversion of percent slope to fall over 100 metres. A visual assessment can be made using the amount of fall over 100 metres and converting back to a percentage.

Table 1:Conversion of percent slope to fall over 100 metres

Precent slope

Amount of fall over a 100 metre distance


Flat with no fall


1 metre


3 metres


8 metres


25 metres

A clinometer can be used for a more accurate measurement of slope. Clinometer apps are available for smart phones.

A dumpy level can also be used to accurately determine the fall over 100 metres or more (or less).

Slope may also be determined using a GPS or topographic map. To determine the slope using a topographic map you will need the rise (the difference in elevation between two points) and the run (the distance between two points calculated using the map scale). Slope can then be determined with the following calculation: rise / run x 100 = % slope

Assessing Soil Texture

Soil texture refers to how coarse or fine the soil is: that is, how much sand, silt and clay it contains. Texture has a major influence on how much water a soil can hold. Generally, the smaller and finer the soil particles (the more silt and clay), the more water a soil can hold, and the less susceptible it is to wind erosion with adequate rainfall.

Soil texture can be estimated by hand using the ribboning technique, noting that it takes practice to produce a consistent result.

Carry out this ribbon test on a sample of soil from the area to be cleared using the Code. If soil differs across the area to be cleared, assess each area separately.

Do this several times for confirmation and compare the average ribbon length with those in Table 4 below. Each soil texture is classified within a ribbon length range (for example, sandy clay loam ribbon length is 25 to 40 mm long).

Once a consistent ribbon length is being produced, you can be reasonably confident that the correct soil texture has been identified.

Table 2: Soils textures using the ribboning technique

Broad Groups

Texture Grade

Behaviour of the
soil ball

Ribbon (mm)



Ball will not form


Loamy sand

Ball just holds together


Clayey sand

Ball forms, sticky-clay stains fingers


Sandy Loams

Sandy loam

Ball forms, feels sandy, but spongy


Silty loam

Ball forms, feels smooth and silky




Ball forms, feels smooth and spongy


Sandy clay loam

Ball is firm, feels sandy and plastic


Clay Loams

Silty clay loam

Ball is firm, smooth, silky, plastic


Clay loam

Ball firm, feels smooth and plastic



Light clay

Ball very strong, feels plastic


Medium clay

Ball very strong, feels like plasticine


Heavy clay

Ball very strong, stiff plasticine


Assessing Soil Texture using the ribbon test

  • Take a small handful of soil.  
  • Add enough water to make a ball. If you can't make a ball, the soil is very sandy
  • Feel the ball with your fingers to find out if it is gritty (sand), silky (silt) or plastic/sticky (clay).
  • Reroll the ball and with your thumb gently press it out over your forefinger to make hanging ribbon.  
  • If you can make a short ribbon, your soil texture is loamy, a mixture of sand and clay.
  • The longer the ribbon, the more clay is in your soil.
  • More information

    To find out more about native vegetation and your options under the Land Management Framework:

    • contact Local Land Services on 1300 795 299
    • email
    • go to
    • call in to your nearest Local Land Services office and ask for a Sustainable Land Management officer

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