The evolution of soil conservation policies targeting land abandonment and soil erosion in Spain: A review

Cynthia C.E. van Leeuwen*, Erik L.H. Cammeraat, Joris de Vente, Carolina Boix-Fayos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Land degradation affects natural and cultivated socio-ecosystems worldwide. Soil erosion is one of the main processes leading to land degradation, and the process is accelerated by human actions. Spain is dealing with extensive land degradation caused by land use and land cover change (LULCC), for instance by land abandonment, and local geo-ecological conditions. Recent land abandonment in Spain can be largely related to changing policies and international market development, which have resulted in the reallocation of agriculture and a shift from traditional rainfed crops to intensification of irrigated agriculture. This radical change in LULCC by land abandonment resulted in two opposite trends, towards greening-up and towards land degradation, each with enormous consequences for the environment by its effects on soil hydrology, runoff, sediment sources, soil erosion, fluvial channel adjustments and forest fire risks. To mitigate negative effects, appropriate management and conservation strategies are necessary. In this review, we analyze the top-down policy framework of soil conservation in Spain, with a specific focus on the Region of Murcia. We found that multiple international policies, i.e. the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the European Water Framework Directive and the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), contribute to soil and water conservation at the national level, where the national administration selects most appropriate measures according to the country's current state. These measures are incorporated in national policies, such as the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and the National Rural Development Programme. In case of the CAP, agro-environmental subsidies are an instrument to promote soil protection at a national level. Regionally adjusted sub-measures, based on regional environmental characteristics, are then integrated in the Regional Rural Development Programmes of the Spanish Autonomous Communities. The application of subsidies, related to soil protection, is found to be controversial, as studies do not agree upon its effect on soil erosion and land degradation control. To improve decision-making, concepts such as the ecosystem service approach and nature-based solutions are suggested to be included in future policies, as these concepts aim to improve the status of the entire ecosystem in a more holistic manner than is currently the case.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-186
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • CAP
  • Land degradation
  • Land use change
  • Murcia
  • Policy making
  • Subsidies


Dive into the research topics of 'The evolution of soil conservation policies targeting land abandonment and soil erosion in Spain: A review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this