European Soil Bureau Network

Overview

The European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN), located at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, Ispra(I), was created in 1996 as a network of national soil science institutions. The ESBN at the JRC is operated by staff members of the Land Management Unit (LMU). Its main tasks are to collect, harmonise, organise and distribute soil information for Europe. This section describes the history, background and current work programme of the network.

The European Soil Bureau is a Network of "Centres of Excellence". In general terms, therefore, the role the ESBN Project at the JRC is twofold - to perform a co-ordination activity by hosting the Secretariat of the ESBN and to provide a central source for information relevant to the work of the European Commission. 

The ESBN is experiencing a surge in the demand for soil information in Europe, for addressing a number of environmental problems and questions. These include: leaching of agrochemicals, deposition of heavy metals, disposal of waste (agricultural, domestic and industrial), degradation of soil structure (through loss of organic matter, salinisation and subsoil compaction), risk of erosion (by water and wind), immobilisation of radionuclides, supply of water at catchment level, assessing the suitability (and sustainability) for traditional and alternative crops, and estimation of soil stability.

Project Rationale

Soil is a multifunctional environmental entity: 

  • Eco-systemic regulation (retention, filtering, transformation etc.);
  • functions for social and economic activities (agriculture, forestry, infrastructure, housing, mining etc.);
  • Archival function of soils containing records of natural and human history.

Several different policy drivers are relevant to this project: 

  • The Common Agricultural Policy (DG AGRICULTURE) particularly for the implementation of existing regulations (2078/92, 2080/92) and the forthcoming Agri-Environmental Policy, to be further strengthened through the CAP reform under Agenda 2000.
  • The current World Trade Organisation (WTO, previously known as GATT) negotiation round and the need for appropriate soils indicators for agricultural production;
  • The Kyoto Protocol (DG ENVIRONMENT) that identifies Soil as one of the major sinks for greenhouse gases;
  • The Water Policy (DG ENVIRONMENT), particularly for the correct implementation of the Nitrites Directive (91/676/EEC) and the forthcoming Water Framework Directive;
  • The Waste Management Policy (DG ENVIRONMENT) through the relevant soil data needed for the revision of the existing Sewage Sludge Directive (86/278/EEC);
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) (DG ENVIRONMENT) procedure as described in Council Directive 85/337/EEC) as amended by Council Directive 87/11/EC;
  • The newly established European Soil Forum (DG ENVIRONMENT);
  • The European Environment Agency (EEA) established under Council Regulation 1210/90;
  • The European Spatial Development Perspective (DG REGIONAL POLICY);
  • Other binding International Agreements (DG EXTERNAL RELATIONS, DG DEVELOPMENT, DG ENVIRONMENT) such as :
    • UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Agenda 21 with Chapter 10 focusing on Soils
    • The European Soil Charter (1972) and recommendation R (92) 8 (1992) of the Council of Europe
    • The recent work on Public Policies for the Protection of Soil Resources by the OECD (1994)
    • The Convention on the Protection of World Cultural and National Heritage (1972)
    • The World Soil Charter (1981)
    • The World Charter for NAture (1982)
    • The Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)
    • The Alpine Convention and its protocol on Soil Protection (Bled, 20/10/1998)
    • and The Convention to Combat Desertification (1994)

Specific Objectives

The European Soil Bureau operates through a network of European centers of excellence in Soil Science. The scientific quality of the work is guaranteed by a Steering Committee formed of outstanding European soil scientists. The constant link with policy makers is ensured by and Advisory Committee with delegates from the Member States and the relevant customer DGs.  Actual operational activities are performed through ad-hoc working groups co-ordinated by the scientific committee. The results of these converge into the European Soil Information System (EUSIS), designed to be the main source of georeferenced information on European Soils. 

EUSIS allows the collection of harmonised soil data and integrates appropriate interpretation models. The outputs of the system can be both in cartographic and/or tabular formats. It is a multi-scale system giving answers to problems to be solved at different scales. These range from global assessments (1:5,000,000 scale) to spatial planning and precision farming (1:5,000 scale). The average scale is 1:1,000,000, appropriate to respond to EU soil policy issues. EUSIS is accessible to the concerned commission services, and by interested third parties. It includes the relevant indicators in support of the development of a coherent soil protection policy within Europe. 

Project Deliverables

  • Cartographic output from the EUSIS
    • soil erosion risk maps,
    • organic carbon content,
    • background concentration of heavy metals,
    • soil suitability for the major crops,
    • soil degradation,
    • desertification,
    • groundwater vulnerability to agrochemicals etc.
  • Technical and scientific support to the UNCCD Annex IV
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Title: European Soil Database v2.0 (vector and attribute data)
Resource Type: Datasets, European Soil Database & soil properties
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Year: 2001
Publisher: European Commission –- DG JRC
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Title: Soil Atlas of Europe
Resource Type: Maps & Documents, Atlases
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Year: 2005
Language: en
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