Soil Quality and Sustainability Evaluation - an Integrated Approach to Support Soil-Related Policies in the European Union

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The optimization of soil resources use towards maximization of use-efficiency (increased competitiveness) and minimization of environmental degradation risk (sustainability) is a main challenge to European policies (COM(2006)231, COM(2006) 232).

The principles of sustainable soil use are well documented in the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, the basic soil-related document of the European Commission. Soil quality and sustainability evaluation is a fundamental concept bridging between the utilization and protection aspects of soil-use planning.

A framework and definitions for evaluating the quality and sustainable use of soil resources is developed for applications in the European Union in the support of the Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection.

The method for evaluating soil quality is designed fully flexible in order to link it with the evaluation of degradation threats. Based on the evaluation procedure, three main indexes in the sustainable soil-use domain are calculated:

1) Soil Quality Index
- to express the ability of soil to perform ecosystem and social services

2) Soil Threat Index
- to express the level of risk on which the soil is exposed to
degradation threats

3) Soil Sustainability Index
- for the comparative measurement of soil quality across a gradient of stress or disturbance

Sustainability analysis of soil-use can be performed for any individual soil function or groups of soil functions in defined land use systems in a comparative manner, taking the potential effects of degradation into account.

The full applicability of the concept in supporting soil-related policies in the European Union is illustrated by the evaluation of biomass production and major soil threats (erosion, decline of organic matter).

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