EU Science Hub

Soil erosion in Europe: Current status, challenges and future developments

Abstract: 
Soil erosion is the most widespread form of soil degradation worldwide. Major policy responses should reverse the impact of soil erosion in degraded areas taking into account the population increase, the climate change trends and the water crisis. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recognized soil erosion by water and wind as the major cause for land degradation globally. The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) of the FAO recognized that globally the most significant threats to soil function at the global scale are soil erosion, loss of soil organic carbon and nutrient imbalance . Soil degradation due to erosion is also a European problem. During the past decade, the problem of soil erosion has become part of the environmental agenda in the European Union (EU) due to its impacts on food production, drinking water quality, ecosystem services, flooding, eutrophication, biodiversity and carbon stock shrinkage. The EU Soils Thematic Strategy, adopted by the European Commission in September 2006, indicated accelerated soil erosion as major threat to European soil. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union recognizes the importance of protecting our soils and address the issue of reducing soil erosion and maintaining soil organic carbon at European agricultural lands. In this policy framework, it is important to have an updated ‘picture’ of the current status and address policy measures to challenge the problem of soil erosion. The mean soil loss rate in the European Union’s erosion-prone lands (agricultural, forests and semi-natural areas) was found to be 2.46 t ha-1 yr-1, resulting in a total soil loss of 970 Mt annually; equal to an area the size of Berlin at 1 metre deep. Policy interventions (i.e. reduced tillage, crop residues, grass margins, cover crops, stone walls and contouring) in the EU such as the Common Agricultural Policy and Soil Thematic Strategy have served to introduce measures to decrease erosion during the last decade by around 9% . However, a lot has to be done as soil erosion rates are higher by a factor of 1.6 compared to soil formation rates. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has developed a modelling framework to incorporate climate change scenarios, future land use projections and policy interventions. This framework has been expanded with important components on sediment distribution, soil erosion by wind and effect of soil erosion in current carbon balance .