The primary aim of the UK Soil and Herbage Pollutant Survey (UKSHS) project was to establish a baseline for pollutant levels in soil and herbage in the UK and, where possible, to estimate historical trends by comparison with earlier surveys. The results are presented in a series of 11 reports of which this, No. 8, deals with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Soil and herbage samples collected from rural, urban and industrial sites in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (n = 203) were analysed for 26 selected PCBs in the largest national survey ever carried out on these persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Land use is the main determinant of PCB concentrations in soil and herbage. Median PCB concentrations of all the congener suites (Σ6, Σ7 and all 26 congeners) in urban and industrial soils and herbage are approximately twice those in rural locations. Because PCBs are persistent in soil, the soil concentrations observed in the UKSHS integrate inputs over previous years – perhaps the previous 10–30 years. The significant differences between industrial, urban and rural soil PCB concentrations indicate that, historically, urban and industrial areas were significant sources of PCBs.