The recent publication of The State of Soil in Europe by the European Environment Agency (part of the European Commission) went largely unnoticed, but carries some interesting, and quite alarming, statistics.
Greenfacts reports that eight major aspects of soil degradation in Europe have been identified: biodiversity decline, compaction, contamination, erosion, landslides, organic matter decline, salinisation and sealing . Further, acidification, desertification or biofuels production are other potential threats to soil integrity considered in this report. All these problems have considerable economic and environmental consequences and could eventually compromise food production. Poor land management, such as deforestation, overgrazing, construction activities and forest fires are among the main causes of this situation.
The Euro Forest Portal says that the report shows that the main soil degradation processes are accelerating in many parts of Europe, often as a result of human activities. It shows that soil resources in many parts of Europe are being overexploited, degraded and irreversibly lost. These trends are accelerated by inappropriate land management practices, industrial activities and land use changes.
Enterprise Europe London highlights some particularly disturbing statistics from the report: Between 1990 and 2006, at least 275 hectares of soil per day were permanently lost through soil sealing – the covering of fertile land by impermeable material – amounting to 1,000 km² per year, or an area the size of Cyprus every ten years. Soil erosion by water is estimated to affect 1.3 million km² in Europe, an area equivalent to 2.5 times the size of France. Soil degradation affects our capacity to produce food, prevent droughts and flooding, stop biodiversity loss, and tackle climate change.
It quotes Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik: "These reports highlight the importance of preserving European soils if we are to safeguard supplies of quality food and clean groundwater, healthy recreational spaces, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. We need to use the resources from our soils more sustainably. The best way to do this would be through a common approach across the EU. The Commission has put legislative proposals on the table, and I hope our new reports will help Council and Parliament move towards action."
Download the full report here.