Soil information in support of policy making and awareness raising

J. Bouma, G. Broll, T.A. Crane, O. Dewitte, C. Gardi, R.P.O. Schulte, W. Towers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Soils play an important role in defining sustainable land-use options when facing major global environmental challenges such as food security, climate change, fresh water scarcity and biodiversity loss. Facing these problems, the 2006 EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (TSSP), provides an important focal point for soil research and awareness raising. Unfortunately, the TSSP has not yet been followed up with a legally binding Framework Directive mainly because of political barriers. Two approaches are discussed to overcome these barriers: First, we explore innovative ways to present soils and raise soil awareness. Soil information in terms of atlases, associated databases and interpretations, focusing on major environmental problems, is presented by the EU Joint Research Center (JRC) for Africa and South America using modern digital techniques and, particularly, a user-oriented approach. This contrasts with the traditional approach that is more soil-centred. Soil science has not yet effectively tapped the genuine and basic affinity of mankind with their soils. Therefore, more attention to local knowledge and management of soils is needed. Creating more awareness, by sharing experiences with various citizen groups, is also an effective mechanism to mobilize the political arena as is demonstrated by some German examples. Second, we show specific real-world examples as to the possible positive and innovative impact of the TSSP. An example is presented of Functional Soil Planning, based on maximizing soil functions at national and international level by customizing soil management at local level, balancing ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ by defining tradeoffs between conflicting functions. Finally, a case study for Scotland is presented dealing with EU policies for so-called: ‘Less Favoured Areas (LFA)’. The EU Court of Auditors required unified rules for the EU, while Scotland already had defined: ‘Areas of Natural Handicap’, as a basis for LFAs, emphasizing biophysical criteria. The ensuing discussions with the EU agencies illustrated the significance of the subsidiarity and proportionality principles, demonstrating that EU-wide rules and indicators could be fine-tuned and improved by considering local conditions. In both approaches, soil information is both key to the policies whilst at the same time the policies themselves provide excellent vehicles for awareness raising; a win-win situation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)552-558
JournalCurrent Opinion in Environmental Sustainability
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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