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Evaluation of soil protection aspects in certain programmes of measures adopted by Member States

The objective of this study was two fold. On one side, to perform an analysis of the River Basin Districts characterisations, under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), to assess to what extent soil degradation has been identified as a pressure on the water bodies and as an obstacle to achieve good water quality. On the other side, the study identifies, describes and evaluates the measures taken by the Member States of the European Union (excepted Bulgaria and Romania ) under Cross Compliance (CC) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) that directly or indirectly contribute to the mitigation of the soil threats identified in the Soil Thematic Strategy.

Identification, description and assessment of soil protection aspects in the characterisation of River Basin Districts pursuant to Article 5 of the Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) established a River Basin management planning process. For each River Basin District (RBD), a River Basin management plan will be prepared, implemented and reviewed every six years. River Basin characterisation, required by Article 5 of the Directive, is an important early part of this process. For each RBD, an analysis of the characteristics, a review of the impact of human activity on the status of the water bodies within the RBD, and an economic analysis of water use are required.

Overall, soil degradation was identified as a pressure for water quality in many reports but only with respect to erosion and contamination (local and diffuse).

With very limited exceptions, the WFD Article 5 reports do not have relevant information on organic matter decline, sealing, compaction, salinisation and landslides. Even for those degradation processes, such as erosion and contamination, for which there is some information, the insufficient level of detail and the different focus of the reports, which are geared towards water rather than soil protection, make the reports of limited relevance in the context of soil policy.

Moreover, given the potentially high impacts that salinisation, landslides, compaction and sealing can have on the water cycle, addressing these issues in the reports in more depth would certainly contribute to achieving adequate water body protection.

Identification, description and assessment of soil protection related standards under cross-compliance

Cross-compliance (CC) is a policy tool that attaches conditions to the receipt of agricultural subsidies/direct payments. Since 2005 all farmers receiving direct payments are subject to compulsory cross-compliance standards, as laid down in Council Regulation No 1782/2003 and Commission Regulation No 796/2004.

In a nutshell, farmers claiming direct payments must adhere to cross-compliance standards in three ways:

  • Comply with the statutory management requirements (SMRs) set up in accordance with 19 EU Directives and Regulations. The standards relate to the protection of the environment, public, animal and plant health, food safety and animal welfare;
  • Keep agricultural land in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC);
  • Maintain permanent pasture.

The following three key conclusions can be derived from the study:

  1. The cross-compliance regime does not cover all the soil threats considered in the Soil Thematic Strategy;
  2. The adoption of the cross-compliance standards differs very much from Member State to Member State . The lack of data on soil degradation processes in a country's territory does not allow an assessment whether these differences are justified by different local soil conditions;
  3. At this early stage of implementation, the effectiveness of the measures adopted by Member States cannot yet be assessed.

Identification, description and assessment of soil threats and measures under the national action programmes adopted by Member States pursuant the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

The aim of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), adopted in June 1994 and entered into force on 26 December 1996, is to prevent and reduce land degradation, rehabilitate partly degraded land and reclaim partly desertified land. National Action Programmes (NAPs) are one of the key instruments in the implementation of the Convention.

In the European Union, the Member States concerned by the UNCCD can be separated into two categories:

  • Developed countries that consider themselves affected by desertification. These countries in principle prepare a National Action Programme and report regularly in National Reports on activities as affected countries ( Cyprus , Hungary , Italy , Greece , Latvia , Malta , Portugal , Slovak Republic , Slovenia , and Spain ).
  • Non- affected developed Countries. These countries report on their activities as donor countries (like monetary aid, research projects, etc), but do not consider themselves as affected and do not prepare a National Action Programme: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Even if the UNCCD reports in general address all soil threats to some extent, measures address mostly soil erosion, soil contamination and soil salinisation. With respect to these soil threats measures could contribute to some extent to soil protection in the affected Member States. The added value of the reports to evaluate the extent to which such measures contribute or reduce soil threats is limited due to the general quality of information given in the reports. Even in the three Member States that have already adopted the NAPs and where the actual effectiveness of identified measures to soil protection could in theory be evaluated, the quality of information given is too general to allow for a more in depth evaluation. Therefore, also for these countries no concrete conclusions on the extent to which measures contribute to soil protection can be drawn.

A wide range of information was collected in the development of the study, which was entered into three databases (in .mdb format), one for each of the policy fields considered in the study:

Detailed instructions on how to operate the databses are contained in Annex I to the main report (see above).