European Soil Bureau (ESBN) > Future perspectives
Within its 6th Environmental Action Programme, the European Commission has established the objective of protecting soils against a number of major threats - erosion, pollution, decline of organic matter content, loss of biodiversity, sealing by infrastructure, salinization and desertification. In order to achieve this objective it has proposed the introduction of a specific thematic strategy for soil protection. The way forward towards this proposed strategy has been outlined in the Communication COM 179 (EC, 2002) 'Towards a Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection'.
The Communication recognizes several distinctive features of soils that make the development of a soil protection policy somewhat different from the protection of air and water. One of these features is the very high degree of spatial variability of soils across Europe. The great diversity of European soils reflects the differences in climate, geology, vegetation, land use and historical development that are characteristic of Europe.
Recognizing soil diversity implies to take into account the strong local connotation of any soil protection policy. Different soils require different management and protection measures.
It seems therefore a mandatory pre-condition to the development of any future soil protection strategy is the compilation of a detailed and up-dated inventory of the current status of European soils.
The future development of a European Spatial Data Infrastructure (ESDI) within the INSPIRE (http://inspire.jrc.it) initiative of the European Commission will generate a fully streamlined flow of soil data and information from the local scale up to the European scale. Such a nested soil information system (King et al., 1998) will allow to access to soil information at the appropriate scale for each of the required applications (global, European, national, regional, local) by the different stakeholders.
The development of a coherent approach to soil protection within the EU will take time. In the long term, a 'soil framework directive' may be the appropriate instrument to achieve fully the goals outlined in the soil protection strategy. Nevertheless, some initial steps are already possible within the existing legislative framework.
One of the major existing instruments for improving soil protection in the EU is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The mid-term review of this policy and the resulting new Council Regulation No. 1782/2003 of 29th of September 2003 explicitly specifies under article 5 obligations for Member States to ensure good agricultural practices and environmental condition of land. Annex IV of the regulation specifies in detail what practices should be implemented and according to which minimum standards. Among these practices there are measures to reduce soil erosion, increase soil organic matter content and improve soil structure. Already implementing these new measures will result in a substantial step forward towards soil protection in Europe.
Other important policy areas where immediate action could be implemented are the Nitrates Directive, the Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directives, the Landfill Directive, the Habitats Directive and other, more general environmental legislation, making a significant contribution to the prevention of contamination and the protection of biodiversity.
Pre-condition to the successful implementation of any of such measures will be the development of a coherent European Soil Information System involving stakeholders at all levels: from the local to the global scale.
In this sense, the European Soil Bureau Network will continue in future to be the main European soil data and information provider for the implementation and monitoring of the future thematic strategy for soil protection.
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