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Eco-engineering and conservation of slopes for long-term protection from erosion, landslides and storms

Recent catastrophic landslide and storm events in Europe, resulting in the loss of human life and irreparable damage to rural communities, illustrate a huge need for improved management of unstable slopes in both urban and natural environments. Current geo-engineering measures, involving the use of reinforcing techniques, offer an expensive solution to the problem and can only be used in high-risk, accessible areas. In this multidisciplinary project, the stabilising and reinforcing effects of vegetation on natural and artificial slopes will be examined with a view to developing adequate management strategies and new techniques for the prevention of such disasters. The relationship between tree and woody plant architecture, root anchorage and root reinforcement will be investigated and correlated to the soil's mechanical and physical properties, as well as slope stability.

One of the main objectives of the Eco-slopes project, is to train eco-engineers (a discipline little known in Europe, but established in other parts of the world), and to create new types of jobs centred around this activity. The role and mechanism by which woody vegetation stabilises slopes and fixes soil against erosion, and when not, will be examined. Techniques for manipulating the reinforcing effect of plant root growth on natural and artificial slopes will be investigated. Results will be fed into existing models in order to develop new software, and provide an Expert System (Slopes Decision Support System) for the eco-engineer and forester to decide how, where and what to plant on any given slope, and how to consequently manage the slope to ensure maximum stability and protection against landslides, erosion and storms.

Progress to Date
The fieldwork has been accomplished (except for long-term soil monitoring), and the analysis of the results is underway. The results are being included into models and software, in order to determine the most important parameters for slope stabilisation using vegetation. The Slope Decision Support System (SDSS) is under development and a manual is currently being written as an aid for the eco-engineer/forester.
The training of eco-engineers within the project has been highly successful, with young researchers and engineers carrying out both short- and long-term stays in laboratories and institutes of other partners.

Important results were concerned with fieldwork data, in particular the characterisation of several European sites with slope stability problems. Certain species were identified as fixing the soil better on unstable slopes. In rock fall zones, the tree species most resistant to damage by falling rocks have been identified. An understanding of the relationship between tree root architecture and anchorage strength is underway. The modelling of slope stability with different types of vegetation illustrated the importance of hydrological and mechanical factors.


Scientist responsible for the project

Domaine de l'Hermitage, 69, Rte d'Arcachon
33612 Cestas CEDEX cedex
France - FR

Phone: +33 5 57 12 28 21
Fax: +33 5 56 68 07 13


Project ID QLRT-2000-00289
Organisation Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique
Area 5.3.1
Start date 01 June 2001
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 3 859 584 €
Total EC contribution   2 440 408 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

The partners


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