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Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Soil / Soil

Soil

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Soil underpins 90% of all human food, fiber, and fuel and is essential for water and ecosystem health. It is a global carbon sink; holding an important role in the potential slowing of climate change. Soil conserves the remains of our past, it is a reservoir for genes and is an important element of our cultural heritage, through the maintenance of landscapes and biodiversity. Nevertheless, soil is being exploited and irreversibly lost and degraded as a result of conflicting demands from most economic sectors.

While soils are as essential to human society as air and water, soil degradation has not received nearly as much attention as the threats to these other two elements. Still soils are the basis for 90 % of all human food, livestock feed, fibre, and fuel. They support human settlements and provide raw materials and groundwater. Major problems in Europe include: loss of top-soil due to erosion or building activities, contamination, and acidification.

Lack of attention to soil degradation can be seen not only in the lack of European directives or soil protection targets, but also in the scarcity of data. While, for instance, 300 000 sites across the EU have been identified as definitely or potentially contaminated, the best estimate is that there are 1.5 million contaminated areas.

Erosion, sealing, contamination, a decline in soil biodiversity and desertification are just a few of the threats to soils in Europe. The solution isn't always in the hands of one country where often large geographic areas need consideration e.g. desertification in the Mediterranean. Even outside these boundaries soil health affects us all e.g. the melting of permafrost will release more methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The consequences of which will be felt far beyond specific geographic areas!

Through an EEA system ( Corine Land Cover database) we have observed that land use has changed in Europe. Between 1990 and 2000, at least 2.8 % of Europe's land was subject to a change in use, including a significant increase in urban areas. Soil is as essential to human well being as air and water, but it has not received nearly as much attention; soil resilience has led to it being overlooked. The lack of attention to soil degradation is illustrated not only in the limited soil protection targets across the EU, but also in the scarcity of data. Soil is a non-renewable resource and needs to be managed sustainably, and before it is too late for soil to recover.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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