The European Commission has recognized the heavy dependence of society on the ecosystem services provided by the Community's fragile soils and has published a Thematic Strategy for the protection of Europe’s soils. The Strategy is built around four key elements:
Soil erosion, organic matter decline and compaction are identified as key threats to soil resources alongside contamination and the loss of land to development. Areas of soil at risk from these threats will have to be mapped and programs of measures agreed to manage and counter the risks. Soil monitoring will be required. Land sealing by development is to be minimized and mitigated by environmentally-sensitive construction techniques. National inventories of contaminated land sites and soil status reports for property transactions will be required along with a national remediation strategy. Soil protection will be integrated into other legal measures for environmental protection.
Soil degradation is a growing issue across mainland Europe and the UK that has, in the past, received far less attention than water or air quality. Soil is lost through erosion, is compacted by machinery, depleted of organic matter, sealed by urban and transport development and is contaminated. The degradation of soil leads to indirect costs associated with diffuse river and groundwater pollution, contributions to climate change, loss of biodiversity and threats to human health. The Commission estimates that the cost of soil degradation is, at the very least, 38 billion Euro, a figure that includes a very low estimate of the cost of contaminated land remediation and no provision for the cost of damage to the ecological functions of soil. The diffuse pollution of natural waters, much of which is soil management-related, is the most challenging issue to be addressed under the Water Framework Directive. Annual UK losses of soil carbon are reported to equal the reductions in UK industrial emissions to meet the UK Kyoto targets which do not recognize emissions from soil. Despite these costs, there are currently only limited legal provisions for soil protection in Community and national environmental law with no explicit legislation focused on the protection of soil. The Thematic Strategy and Framework Directive aim to fill that gap.The draft Directive is the culmination of a concerted program of actions involving stakeholder consultation on a Soil Communication, five Technical Working Groups of specialists and the publication of a series of reports.
Dick Thompson - Dick Thompson graduated as a plant scientist, but has pursued a career in soil science. He has fifteen years experience as a field soil surveyor in the United Kingdom. His interests are now focused on the application of soil resource information in environmental protection and sustainable land use planning. He is Director of the National Soil Resources Institute at Cranfield University where he is involved in the management of a diverse program of research covering soil science, engineering and sustainable land management. Dick is currently President of the UK Institute of Professional Soil Scientists.