The EU proposed a Framework Directive for Soils in September 2006, after a consultation with member states discovered that only nine had legislation to protect against soil degradation. This directive lays down a framework within which Member States must introduce domestic law and policy to protect their soils from various threats and ensure remediation of contaminated sites.

Why should central Europe be worried about the state of each Member State’s soils?

Well in brief; all terrestrial life on Earth depends on the delicate, friable layer of soil that covers the continents. Without soil, living things would never have emerged from the oceans – and there would currently be no way that plants, crops, forests, animals and people could survive. Soil carries out numerous functions. It provides mankind with food, biomass and raw materials. It serves as a platform for human activities, our landscape and our heritage and plays a central role in terrestrial habitats and gene pools. It also stores, filters and transforms substances such as water, nutrients and carbon. All these functions and processes depend on the structure of the soil. Within Europe alone there are over 320 different major soil types. In short damage to the structure of each of these soil types would have a detrimental roll-on effect to ecosystems and environmental services.

Soil degradation is not just a single Member States responsibility, it has transboundary consequences. Losses of soil organic matter in one Member State impair achievement of the EU’s Kyoto Protocol targets. Dams can become blocked by sediments from erosion further upstream in another country. Groundwater in bordering countries can be polluted by contaminated sites on the other side of the border. Therefore it is important that the EU provides a uniform framework for all Member States to act upon to prevent damage.

Defra1 has launched a consultation period for comments on the EU Soil Framework Directive (closes 19th October 2007). In addition they have produced an initial Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) which assesses how each of the proposals will meet the needs of soil protection in the UK, how they could be improved to ensure that the policy measures are proportionate to the risks to soil protection, and the potential costs of their implementation.

For further details on this consultation visit the Defra website or the EU Europa soils thematic website for the full Soil Framework Directive, provided in all EU languages.

For those interested in the topic of soil degradation, a quick, free text search of CAB Abstracts using the following keywords “soil” = 640000+ records, and a more defined search for “soil degradation” = 3207 records.

1 Defra is the UK governments ‘Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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