Availability of land and soil is under pressure. Land and soil are needed for multiple and competing uses, such as supporting houses, food and biomass production, biodiversity, water management, leisure and other cultural aspects. Soils in the EU are exposed to numerous pressures which limit their ability to deliver their ecosystem services. Threats include erosion, floods and landslides, loss of soil organic matter, salinisation, contamination, compaction, sealing, and loss of soil biodiversity.

The scale of soil degradation in the EU is significant. Water and wind erosion affect approximately 22% of European land. 45% of the mineral soils in Europe have low or very low organic carbon content. Soil contamination affects up to three million sites and an estimated 32-36% of European subsoils are classified as having high or very high susceptibility to compaction. Due to accelerating drivers behind degradation such as increasing urbanisation, land abandonment, and intensification of agricultural production, soil degradation processes continue to undermine soil functions.

Algarve, golfcourse erosion
Algarve, golfcourse erosion

We all benefit from better soil and land management. Unfortunately, there is no standard recipe for good soil management or land management. The optimal management depends on which ecosystem services are demanded by society and on local soil characteristics. On top of that, many stakeholders in soil and land management are not or insufficiently aware or the benefits soil and land can deliver and of the impacts and costs of unsustainable management. Therefore, this study gives insight in many aspects of soil management or land management such as:

  • Showing that soil degradation by unsustainable management has transboundary aspects and impact on human health
  • Giving insight in the benefits and overcoming barriers of implementing soil sustainable management, as well as socio-economic aspects of soil protection
  • Giving insight in the importance to take soil quality into account in spatial planning; the ecosystem services of soil and how we can use them
  • The importance of (consistent and interoperable) soil monitoring and information systems and the potential of Earth Observation

SOILS4 EU is a three-year contract commissioned by the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission (Service contract No 07.0201/2016/742739/SER/ENV.D.l, duration–).

SOILS4EU produces six in-depth reports providing scientific background on a range of soil and soil-policy related issues in Europe, three policy briefs, logistic and organisational support for six workshops, and the organisation and provision of content to the European website and the wiki platform on soil-related policy instruments.

The work is performed by: Deltares, The Netherlands (coordinator); lUNG Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation, Poland; UFZ- Helmholtz Centre for environmental research Germany; IAMZ - Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza, Spain; CSIC-EEAD Spanish National Research Council – Estación Experimental de Aula Dei, Spain.


In depth reports

Drivers and transboundary impacts of soil degradation (task leader UFZ)

This report presents evidence of the societal challenges of transboundary impacts, the drivers, and consequences of soil degradation, as well as data and knowledge gaps. The message conveyed by the report is that there is clear evidence of transboundary impacts and drivers of soil degradation and that it has physical, ecological, economic and social causes. Soil degradation does not stop at borders.

Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services – Soil ecosystems (task leader Deltares)

This report is developed in the context of the Soils4EU service contract and the MAES Soil Pilot. This report provides the most comprehensive overview of soil ESS. All ESS included in this report meet the criteria of being goods or services that are provided by the ecosystem, used by humans, and contributing to human well-being.

Review of economic, social and environmental impacts of and implementation barriers for soil protection and sustainable management measures for arable land across the EU (task leader UFZ)

This report addresses the following questions: What are the reasons why measures to protect land and especially soils are not fully taken up by land managers? What are the barriers hindering the implementation of sustainable soil management (SSM) measures and the reasons behind them?

Identification of priority areas for improving consistency and inter-operability of EU-wide and national soil monitoring and information systems (task leader Deltares)

Action must be taken to improve the consistency and interoperability of SMIS. To achieve this goal, it is important to know what data and information MS have available, what the data and information gaps are and what is holding MS back from sharing information. These questions are addressed in this report.

The impact of soil degradation on human health (task leader IUNG)

This report provides a comprehensive overview of impacts driven by different types of soil degradation (soil contamination, soil sealing, erosion, loss of biodiversity, flooding and landslides) on human health. It also indicates the knowledge gaps and gives recommendations for further research.

Potential of Earth Observation for improved soil monitoring (task leader IUNG)

The report provides an overview of remote sensing techniques and their maturity in assessing soils’ properties and degradation processes. The report also elaborates some practical examples where earth observation and soil information are linked and it gives a set of recommendations to further improve the use of Earth Observation for soil monitoring

Policy Briefs

Sustainable soil management (task leader IUNG)

The policy brief elaborates on the importance of soil sustainable management SSM for societal challenges and needs and to avoid soil degradation, and gives recommendations for the most important SSM and how they can be taken up in the policy agenda

Soil quality in spatial planning (task leader Deltares)

This policy brief elaborates on the role of spatial planning as an instrument to better use soil quality in urban and rural areas. It gives recommendations for practice, policy and education how to improve the current situation.

Integrated soil and land policy for Europe (task leader UFZ)

This policy briefs gives and overview of the Soils4EU project and gives the key messages and recommendations for policy makers and calls for an integrated soil and land policy.

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