Soil is defined as the top layer of the earth’s crust. It is formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. It is in fact an extremely complex, variable and living medium. The interface between the earth, the air and the water, soil is a non-renewable resource which performs many vital functions: food and other biomass production, storage, filtration and transformation of many substances including water, carbon, nitrogen. Soil has a role as a habitat and gene pool, serves as a platform for human activities, landscape and heritage and acts as a provider of raw materials. These functions are worthy of protection because of their socio-economic as well as environmental importance.
Erosion, loss of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides, contamination, sealing… Soil degradation is accelerating, with negative effects on human health, natural ecosystems and climate change, as well as on our economy. At the moment, only nine EU Member States have specific legislation on soil protection (especially on contamination).
Different EU policies (for instance on water, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature protection, pesticides, agriculture) are contributing to soil protection. But as these policies have other aims and other scopes of action, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe.
For all these reasons, the Commission adopted a Soil Thematic Strategy (COM(2006) 231) and a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive (COM(2006) 232) on 22 September 2006 with the objective to protect soils across the EU. The Strategy and the proposal have been sent to the other European Institutions for the further steps in the decision-making process.
The strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies that the Commission has presented. The other strategies cover air pollution, the marine environment, waste prevention and recycling, natural resources, the urban environment and pesticides.