The effect of liming on the flow of recently photosynthesized carbon to rhizosphere soil was studied using 13CO2 pulse labelling, in an upland grassland ecosystem in Scotland. The use of 13C enabled detection, in the field, of the effect of a 4-year liming period of selected soil plots on C allocation from plant biomass to soil, in comparison with unlimed plots. Photosynthetic rates and carbon turnover were higher in plants grown in limed soils than in those from unlimed plots. Higher δ13C‰ values were detected in shoots from limed plants than in those from unlimed plants in samples clipped within 15 days of the end of pulse labelling. Analysis of the aboveground plant production corresponding to the 4-year period of liming indicated that the standing biomass was higher in plots that received lime. Lower δ13C‰ values in limed roots compared with unlimed roots were found, whereas no significant difference was detected between soil samples. Extrapolation of our results indicated that more C has been lost through the soil than has been gained via photosynthetic assimilation because of pasture liming in Scotland during the period 1990–1998. However, the uncertainty associated with such extrapolation based on this single study is high and these estimates are provided only to set our findings in the broader context of national soil carbon emissions.