Soil is in urgent need of protection, says Commission

May 2, 2005

Brussels, 29 Apr 2005

We tend to take soil for granted, but it is a finite resource that might not be there or have the same qualities in the future, says Catherine Day, Director General of DG Environment.

Speaking at a press conference at the European Parliament for the launch of the first ever 'Soil Atlas of Europe', Ms Day applauded the initiative as an excellent communication tool to increase awareness and get the message out to the general public and policy-makers. 'A picture is worth a thousands words,' she said.

EU Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik re-iterated her message, stating: 'we definitely undervalue the contribution of soil to our biodiversity, but unless we protect it better, we will soon realise its importance in the worst possible way - by seeing the problems caused by its loss. Tools such as this Soil Atlas are an invaluable aid for policy-makers when considering measures to protect our soil, and for the general public, in raising awareness of its importance.'

The Soil Atlas of Europe, which contains harmonised and comparable soil data for more than 40 European and bordering states, is the product of extensive collaboration between soil scientists from over 40 soil institutes.

As Arwyn Jones, the lead scientist working on the Atlas explained, in the EU an estimated 52 million hectares, representing more than 16 per cent of the total land area, are affected by some kind of degradation process. In the new Member States, this figure is 35 per cent.

'The message we want to put across is that at the moment we can maintain agricultural production, but if something major changes, such as the climate or the way the land is used, this will contribute to desertification and loss of soil,' explained Dr Jones, who works at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).

'The situation is not yet dramatic,' continued Dr Jones, 'but things could be better and policy makers in countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and southern Italy must take care as there are serious risks of desertification.'

The Atlas identifies the key threats to soils, which are: urbanisation, pollution, erosion, salination, soil compaction, flooding and landslides, and illustrates the complex-interlinkages between soil degradation processes and threats to human health and security by mapping the major soil functions.

Soil needs protection because it is a natural living system, crucial to human activities as well as ecological functions. It forms over very long periods of time, and once destroyed, it is effectively lost to present and future generations.

'If you upset the ecological balance you upset everything' explained Dr Jones, who added: 'the Atlas is useful to attract attention to the fact that the soil has a problem. Now it is up to policy makers to develop measures to stop the threats and raise the quality of the soil.'

The information provided in the Atlas will be used to produce the Thematic Strategy on Soil protection, which will include a Soil Framework Directive, and is scheduled to be published by the end of 2005, said Ms Day.

'Man, [...] despite his artistic pretensions and many accomplishments, owes his existence to a thin layer of topsoil [...] and the fact that it rains,' concluded Mr Potocnik.

For further information about the Soil Atlas of Europe please visit:
http://www.jrc.cec.eu.int/soil-atlas

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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