Soil is one of the planet's invaluable resources but continues to be degraded in Europe. Together, the mineral particles, water, air, organic matter, and living organisms that constitute soil perform key functions which underpin our society.
Soil is a vital, non-renewable resource for ecosystems, playing an essential role in services such as water purification and food production. It is also a major global carbon sink, with significant potential to remove climate-changing gases from the atmosphere.
The European Environment Agency (EEA) has joined forces with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre on 'The state of soil in Europe', a comprehensive scientific report highlighting the need to protect and maintain soil in a co-ordinated way across the European Union. The report warns that failure to tackle increased soil degradation could eventually compromise food production. Moreover, degraded soil is less able to prevent droughts and flooding and stop biodiversity loss.
The EEA reported in its last flagship report that Europe's soils are subject to erosion and landslides. Organic matter and biodiversity are both declining in some areas, while compaction, salinisation, and contamination are also significant issues. All these problems have considerable economic and environmental consequences. For example, soil erosion by water affects around 16% of Europe's land area. It is largely the result of poor land management, such as deforestation, overgrazing, construction activities and forest fires.
For further information on the threats to Europe's soils, see the 2010 EEA assessment, which includes a summary of key facts and key messages. These sources focus on how unsustainable human use and management of land is leading to increased soil degradation, and the loss of a resource that is fundamental to life on the planet.