Soil is a largely non-renewable natural resource that underpins a range of vital ecosystem services. Soil organisms play a key role in soil processes, such as bio-geochemical cycles, organic matter decomposition, and nitrogen transformation. Maintaining soil biodiversity is therefore a key concern.
Certain regions of Europe are affected by soil salinisation, acidification, landslides or desertification, with considerable economic and environmental consequences. Soil degradation is accelerating in many parts of Europe, exacerbated by human activities such as the inappropriate management of arable land, grassland and forest land.
Soil erosion by wind and water, largely the result of unsuitable land management, deforestation, overgrazing, construction activities and forest fires, affects around 17% of Europe’s land area. Erosion rates and extents are expected to continue to reflect changing patterns of land use and climate change.
Soil is being lost due to intensive soil sealing – about 4% of Europe’s total land area is sealed and the demand for urbanisation and transport infrastructure is rising. In addition, it is estimated that around 18% of agricultural soils are affected by compaction.
Industrialisation and poor management have left thousands of contaminated sites throughout Europe, resulting in human health impacts and environmental problems including groundwater contamination. While some countries have made significant progress, the identification and remediation of contaminated sites in many countries is patchy, with limited progress over the past five years.
Few countries have specific legislation to protect soil and there is no EU law or regulatory instrument that specifically addresses threats to it or requires the systematic collection of comparable data. The European Commission has published a strategy on soil protection, including legislative proposals, and further measures to support soil conservation within EU environmental and/or sectoral policies seem appropriate.