Soil degradation

Processes like desertification, erosion, the decline in organic matter in soil, soil contamination (e.g. by heavy metals), soil compaction and salinity can reduce the ecological state and, thereby, the productive capacity of soil.

Such degradation can result from inappropriate farming practices such as unbalanced fertilisation, the excessive use of groundwater for irrigation, improper use of pesticides, use of heavy machinery, or overgrazing.

Other causes of soil degradation include the abandonment of certain farming practices. For example greater specialisation towards arable farming has frequently meant an end of traditional crop rotation systems and fertilising with green legumes (working these plants into the soil), practices that helped restore the organic matter content of soil.

Prevention and mitigation with support from the CAP

The common agricultural policy (CAP) contributes to preventing and mitigating soil degradation processes. In particular, agri-environment measures offer opportunities for:

  • favouring the build-up of soil organic matter;
  • the enhancement of soil biodiversity;
  • the reduction of soil erosion, contamination and compaction.

In addition, the provisions of cross-compliance, notably with respect to the obligation to keeping agricultural land in good agricultural and environmental condition, can play an important role for soil protection.

Soil protection thematic strategy

In 2006 the European Commission adopted a soil protection thematic strategy, including a proposal for a soil framework directive, aimed at:

  • the preservation of soil functions;
  • the prevention of soil degradation;
  • the restoration of degraded soils.