Main authors: Catherine Bowyer , Clunie Keenleyside, Silvia Nanni, Anouchka Hoffmann, Nathalie van Haren , Karin van Boxtel, Paul Wolvekamp
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Bowyer, C. et al. (2018) Initial stocktaking report on existing policy measures. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 8.1, 125 pp


Contents table
1. Conceptualising Policy at the EU Level
2. EU Policies for Soil Protection
3. EU Policies Contributing to the Protection of Agricultural Soils

1. Conceptualising Policy at the EU Level

Before examining in detail the European Union policies, laws and measures relevant to soil protection, it is first helpful to set out how policy in the context of delivering soil protection can be conceived. Figure 6 presents a conceptualisation of ‘policy’ and the consequences and implications of policy for actors. When considering policy questions, it is important to understand that it is not simply ‘laws’ and their text that are of importance but the whole sphere of action that is elicited as a consequence of requirements.

It is important to note the variety of policy intervention pathways. This of particular relevance when considering soil protection, as soil status change (for the better or worse) is often the consequence of multiple ‘policy requirements’ that are indirectly or only implicitly linked to soil needs. At the European level this is a consequence of the lack of a strategic, binding law at EU level determining soil issues (Frelieh-Larsen, 2017); but (also as presented in Section 1) also fundamentally a consequence of the complex interactions that result in the delivery of improved soil health i.e. that it is linked to so many intervention points and environmental outcomes. Therefore, when considering soil protection, it is important to consider the whole sphere of potential policy influence and change.


D8.1 fig07
Figure 7

2. EU Policies for Soil Protection

The desire to develop a coordinated policy for Europe's soils stems from commitments made within the Sixth Environmental Action Plan (6EAP). The 6EAP highlighted that ‘soil is a finite resource that is under environmental pressure’. It stated that one of its objectives is the ‘promotion of a sustainable use of the soil, with particular attention to preventing erosion, deterioration, contamination and desertification’. It also required ‘a thematic strategy on soil protection [to be developed], addressing the prevention of, inter alia, pollution, erosion, desertification, land degradation, land-take and hydrogeological risks taking into account regional diversity, including specificities of mountain and arid areas’.

In response to the 6EAP an EU Thematic Strategy on Soil Protection, setting out policy action needed, was adopted in 2006 (COM(2006)231); however, progress towards a dedicated EU law for soil protection action has stalled. The proposed Directive for Soil Protection (COM2006)232) was withdrawn in 2014 following Member States’ failure to reach an agreement on the text.

To date, soil protection remains somewhat adrift in that it is not the focus of binding legal action within EU legislation. However, soil protection or soil needs do features in some EU laws as a secondary objective, i.e. to contribute to the delivery of the primary goal (for example in the water framework Directive) or links are implicitly in place (for example delivering the nitrates Directive implies changes in the management of soils and land to deliver significant reductions in nitrate transfer to water bodies). Soil protection and associated ecosystem services also appear in non-binding, strategic goals set out in EU strategies or roadmaps for environmental protection. For example, Paleari (2017) identified 8 strategic EU objectives considered to address soil protection and its ecosystem services. These include goals for resource efficiency (that by 2050 the EU economy grows in a way that respects resource constraints and no net land take by 2050 set out in the European Commission’s Resource Efficiency Roadmap), and species and habitat conservation (by 2020 halting biodiversity loss and accounting and reporting natural capital and ecosystem services set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy).

In the absence of a coordinating soil policy or binding legislation at the European level focused on soil protection it is, therefore, necessary to look at the whole suite of EU environmental protection policies to identify the measures in place to address soil threats and protect soil functions. Louwagie et al (2010) identified that the most important EU environmental directives for soil quality are the Nitrates Directive and the Water Framework Directive. This is consistent with findings in questionnaires completed as background scoping for analysis under iSQAPER, with the Nitrates Directive noted as most important by multiple case study partners.

At EU level Louwagie et al (2010) noted that six of the soil degradation processes recognised at European Union (EU) level are closely linked to agriculture. Overall, the study concluded that the existing EU policies have the potential to address all recognised soil degradation processes; however, that these policies need to well targeted and require appropriate farm management in order to reach desired levels of soil quality. These findings imply that the legal text provides opportunities, but how these are coordinated, translated, implemented and transformed on the ground will impact on whether soil protection is prioritised. In this context it is important to note analysis by Vrebos et al (2017), which identified that the impact of policies (positive or negative) on a soil function is usually not established. The impact will depend on how the policy is implemented by local authorities and the farmers, making it difficult to estimate the overall state and trends of the different soil functions in agricultural ecosystems.

Paleari (2017) also looked at coverage of soil protection in EU level policies, analysing whether an explicit or implicit mention is made and what threats and functions are covered. The analysis concluded that ‘The EU is increasingly emphasising the importance of soil protection in strategic terms. Due to its cross-cutting nature, various aspects of soil protection are, however, scattered across many EU policy areas’. ‘Soil threats are not comprehensively regulated by the EU legislator and soil protection looks like the by-product of several provisions which mainly set preventative, qualitative and non-strictly binding measures.’

Within the analysis Paleari identified that where provisions existed directly relevant to soil protection the three most common measure types were: good practices; information; and objectives. These are generally non-binding or binding in a limited way. Only 6 out of the 27 pieces of legislation analysed by Paleari explicitly mention soil protection or fighting against a soil threat among their purposes, with soil protection either a tool to deliver another environmental outcome or a secondary issue.

3. EU Policies Contributing to the Protection of Agricultural Soils

As outlined in earlier Sections Europe does not have a singular policy measure for soil protection, in part due to the failure to adopt legislation to coordinate soil protection and in part due to the multiple policy pathways related to the complexity of protecting soils. This Section, therefore, seeks to analyse the range of policies relevant to soil protection on agricultural land.

Analytical Approach

During the development of the 2016 ‘Updated inventory and assessment of soil protection policy instruments in EU Member States’, in consultation with lead Commission officials, 35 EU level policies were identified as being relevant to soil protection . For a measure to be included in the list of relevant EU level policies for soil protection it either: explicitly referenced soil protection; or implicitly would contributed to soil protection through the achievement of other goals - i.e. soil protection may not be the measure’s specified goal or even mentioned in the policy’s text.

It is one question to understand policies with the potential to impact on quality of all soils, it is another to understand those that specifically offer the potential for soil protection on agricultural land. Within this Section the 35 policies have, therefore, been re-reviewed specifically to understand their role in protecting agricultural soils. The detail of this analysis is set out in Table 1. The analysis in the table is based on the original list of 35 policies identified for the inventory, however, analysis and judgements reflected in the table are based on the review of the legislative texts and associated supporting documents such as implementation report. The policies were screened for:

  • their relevance to agricultural land i.e. the policies may directly or indirectly impact on soils or management practices taking place on agricultural land;
  • their coverage of soil threats (as set out in the Soil Thematic Strategy for Europe);
  • the nature of their interaction with agricultural soils; and
  • the mechanisms the make use of to delivering change i.e. how the policy is implemented.

Results of the Analysis – What EU Policies have the Potential to Protect Europe’s Soils?

The analysis identified a limited list of policies deemed ‘highly relevant’ to the delivery of protection of agricultural soils (ie that the address issues of soil protection on agricultural land, that include a driver for change and require action to be undertaken). Of the long list of 35 policies 9 were considered in this highly relevant category (identified as *** in table 1). Three of these are actions under the Common Agricultural Policy i.e. delivery of Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition under Cross Compliance, Greening of Pillar I payments and support under the Rural Development Programmes (see Section 3.2 and 3.3 for a full analysis of the CAP measures and their role in delivering the protection of Europe’s agricultural soils). These measures are highly relevant given the inclusion of actions that both directly and indirectly target soil protection combined with the fact that the CAP represents a funding stream for farmers i.e.compliance is required in order to receive funds. There is, therefore, a mechanism for eliciting change – assuming the EU, Member States regulators and indeed farmers wish to utilise it (see Section 3.3).

Three of the 9 policies seek to protect soils from contamination: the Environmental Liability Directive (focused on preventing and remedying environmental damage to land, water and biodiversity); National Emission Ceiling Directive (which sets national ceilings for key pollutants based on the ability of soils to deal with contaminants and aims to reduce deposition of air pollutants); and the Sewage Sludge Directive (which seeks to enable the use of sewage sludge as a soil enhancer but under conditions that prevents soil contamination). This group of policies act in very different ways, respectively through the attributing legal responsibility for pollution, by reducing air pollutants and by controlling a product through policy. However, all contribute to alleviating the level of contamination of agricultural soils and/or the threat of future contamination.

Two of the policies identified as most relevant related to the protection of water bodies: the water framework Directive; and the closely related Nitrates Directive. The water framework Directive sets out a framework for River Basin Management Plans, which depending on the coverage and pressures with the relevant catchment, could have a potentially important impact on soil management given the emphasis on water quality (implying control of erosion, soil inputs, etc) and water quantity (include water retaining capacity of soils linked to compaction and soil organic matter content (SOM). The Nitrates Directive sets out Nitrate Vulnerable Zones within which inputs of nitrogen-based fertilisers are restricted to protect water bodies. The zones can be powerful drivers for change; where inputs are restricted this can push a change in soil management practices beyond simply reducing nitrogen inputs. However, NVZs only cover a portion of agricultural land.

Finally, LIFE+ (an EU level funding instrument for environmental and climate action that can support demonstration projects including for soil protection) was identified as highly relevant. LIFE+ explicitly offers the possibility of supporting actions for soil protection, including demonstration projects on agricultural land. However, it should be noted that Member States determine LIFE+ funding priorities; therefore, while there is the opportunity to invest in soil protection actions, the nature of projects proposed and supported will depend upon national priorities. It should also be noted that, in the absence of a clear driver to deliver soil protection (for example there is no binding target for soil protection as there is for example for water protection or climate mitigation) there may be less political will to promote projects focused exclusively on soil protection.

In the category ** i.e. where measures are potentially relevant but either currently lack links to intervention points on agricultural land, are non-binding or are still under development; some important future opportunities can be identified. For example, there are important developments under negotiation between the European institutions (at the time of drafting) relating to climate mitigation that have the potential to impact on soil protection. Specifically, the evolution of rules on Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) and Effort Sharing (where targets are set for GHG emission reductions from non EU Emissions Trading sectors including agricultural emissions of non CO2 gases) represent potential opportunities to integrate soil protection better with climate mitigation goals. For example, implementing LULUCF could imply retaining existing soil carbon within agricultural soils and potentially putting in place management measures to further sequester carbon in agricultural soils. However, as yet the connection between delivering soil carbon under LULUCF and the ability of farmers or land managers to be rewarded for such action has not been fully integrated. Climate policies may emerge as important, particularly in light of the ability to offset gains the LULUCF sector with emissions associated with sectors subjected to the effort sharing rules i.e. emission savings in relation to soil carbon could be used to offset other emissions in the agricultural sector or emissions from other sectors covered by the effort sharing rules including transport.

Other policies under the ** relevant but limited category may make important references and set objectives for soil protection, but these are strategic in nature and not linked to binding action to operationalise the goals. This is the case for example for the Soil Thematic Strategy, the Climate Adaptation Strategy and the Guidelines for Soil Sealing. Other policies while important may only cover limited portions of agricultural land, for example, the habitats and birds Directives. Alternatively while EU law may imply that a measure may have the potential to protect agricultural soils key rules and interpretation of these is left largely up to Member States. In some cases the connection is not strong enough between soil needs and the topic in question to know the extent to which soil concerns will be addressed during implementation, for example, Environmental Impact Assessment Directive and the Pesticide Framework Directive.

Although measures addressing soil protection are dispersed across different elements of EU policy it is worth noting that a number of highly relevant policies address the question of reducing pollution of soils and will be highly relevant to agricultural soil contaminate loading i.e.the Liability Directive, National Emissions Ceiling Directive and the Sewage Sludge Directive. In addition there are other measures (listed as relevant or less relevant) that also seek to control external pollution sources, which historically may have impacted on agricultural land. These include the landfill Directive, waste framework Directive and industrial emissions Directive. This body of measures would seem to act collectively to mitigate significantly emissions from external sources that could impact on agricultural land.

In contrast there are fewer measures that deal with possible sources of contamination resulting from agricultural land management or the additions to land made during agricultural production. The sewage sludge Directive deals with contaminants in this potential soil enhancer. In addition proposals (at the time of writing) are under negotiation to amend the fertilisers Regulation to include limits on potential contaminants in soil improvers. The pesticide framework Directive offers a potential basis for controlling potentially negative impacts of inappropriate pesticide use. However, the detail of how objectives and targets are set, training programmes and other actions are rolled out is left to Member States to determine within National Action Plans.

Key Messages

Connecting policy instruments with drivers for change in soil management is an important theme when looking at the policies identified as highly relevant or relevant for soil protection on agricultural land. Under LULUCF, for example, there currently is currently a disconnect between the high level goal and the ability to record and reward positive action on farm. Very few would argue that increasing and retaining soil organic matter and soil carbon on agricultural land is important for both climate mitigation and adaptation. However, making the connection between the high level instruments and the drivers of change can be challenging.

In terms of delivery of change the importance of the CAP should be noted. Not only is the CAP a policy in its own right that is highly relevant to protection of agricultural soils, it is also important in delivering a wide range of other policies. In this case many of the other policies have also been identified as highly relevant or relevant to agricultural soil protection. For example, the water framework Directive and the Nitrate Directive both highlight CAP measures as important in delivering their goals. In a recent review of Member States policies (current and future) relevant to the implementation of LULUCF, all Member States highlighted the importance of the CAP for delivery of the policy in their country (Paquel et al, 2017). The delivery of both the Pesticide Framework Directive and the Floods Directive is also noted to be dependent, at least in part, on CAP implementation. Moreover, multiple strategies and policies also rely in part on the CAP to deliver their aims in terms of soil protection including the Climate Adaptation Strategy and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap.

The important role of Member States, national and regional governments, in relation to the prioritisation and implementation of policies that contribute to the protection of agricultural land and its soils should be noted. Multiple policies require Member States to take decisions that determine coverage both spatially and strategically. These include the CAP, Water Framework Directive, Nitrates Directive, LIFE+, the Pesticides Framework Directive, Floods Directive, Habitats and Birds Directives

Table 1 – EU Level Policy Measures Deemed Relevant to Soil Protection
Relevance to Agricultural Land (*** - highly relevant in terms of coverage and ability to deliver soil quality impacts on agricultural land; ** - relevant but limited by non-binding/strategic nature of the policy or lack of clear pathway to change; * - low relevance to agricultural land management due to subject coverage and mechanisms for change),
Type of instrument (B - binding; S - strategic; R&D/F - R&D funding)
Reference to soil protection (D - direct; I - implied)

Policy Instrument Coverage – brief synopsis of policy coverage related to soil protection Rel. Type Ref. to soil prot. Interaction with Agricultural land Threats addressed Mechanisms for change
Overarching instruments
Soil Thematic Strategy (COM2012)46) Provides a framework for action on soil protection in Europe, identified gaps in coverage including on contamination and soil monitoring, sets out a comprehensive framework for soil protection, and proposed a framework Directive to protect soils **  S D Objectives focused on all EU soils Erosion, Floods, Salinsation, compaction, Loss of SOM, Loss of biodiversity, Contamination/diffuse pollution, sealing – all reflected upon in terms of conceptualizing soil threats Required additional action to bring forward legislation at EU level, legislation subsequently blocked and withdrawn in 2014
7th Environmental Action Programme (Decision 1386/2013/EU)  Sets the strategic direction for environmental policy in the EU, recognizes the need for soil protection and sets that ‘land is managed sustainably in the Union, soil is adequately protected and the remediation of contaminated sites is well underway’ by 2020 ** S D Objectives focused on all EU soils  General statement re condition of soils. Includes explicit reference to contamination including diffuse contamination, soil sealing desertification in the context of delivering the UNCCD, and reduction in soil erosion and calls for increasing effort to address SOM loss Strategic objective to be delivered via other policies including CAP, water policies, biodiversity and planning policies 
Circular Economy Action Plan (COM(2015)614)  Sets out a programme of action to stimulate Europe’s transition to a circular economy includes measures including on waste management and fertilizers that may impact on soil quality and SOM * S I Impact on fertilizer products  Primarily relevant to Loss of SOM and soil contamination in the context of the revision of the Regulation on fertilisers that includes coverage of contaminants and labelling for all fertilising products including organic soil improvers.  Via amends to the fertiliser Regulation 
Resource Efficiency Roadmap (COM(2011)571) Promotes soil and land as key resources and the need to integrate protection of ecosystem services into policy. Sets out strategic objectives for EU policies to take into account their direct and indirect impact on land use in the EU and globally and to achieve no net land take by 2050; continuously implement action need to reduce soil erosion and increase SOM and set up schedules to remediate contaminated sites. ** S D Not specific to agricultural soil protection but clearly relevant given erosion/SOM focus Specifically highlights soil erosion and SOM maintenance/increase, reduction in soil contamination although seem focused on remediation of point sources not diffuse pollution more commonly associated with agricultural soils Action continuously required by MS to reduce erosion/increase SOM but no binding requirements for MS action. Commission brought forward guidelines on soil sealing as required under the roadmap
Horizon 2020 (COM(2011)806 Programme for research and innovation from 2014-2020, framework for funding pan European projects. ** R&D/F D Can fund research on soil protection on agricultural land Supports projects to address societal challenges that may focus on better understanding of soil management The priorities will depend on the calls that are specified under the research fund
LIFE+ Programme (1293/2013/EU) LIFE+ provides support for projects for environment and climate action *** R&D/F D Can fund research and demonstration projects related to soil protection on agricultural land Financial support includes projects focused on soil biodiversity, actions for low carbon and climate resilience, resource efficiency for soils, projects aimed at integrating environmental and climate considerations or action by civil society in relation to soil protection. Member States are free to propose specific projects related to soil. Outcomes are dependent on MS choice.
Agriculture and forestry
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) including action relating to: Cross compliance specifically GAECs, Pillar I Greening and Rural Development Programmes under Pillar II  The CAP represents the framework for support for EU farmers under which payments can be received based on compliance with certain environmental rules and requirements. This includes requirements linked to Pillar I including rules on Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) and Greening – both require certain actions by farmers with strong links to soil protection; under RDPs these national or regional programmes offer funding opportunities for additional investment beyond the baseline of GAEC and greening and includes soil protection activities  *** B D Highlight relevant and a mechanism for funding specific soil protection practices and management interventions  Has the ability to address all soil threats linked to the management of agricultural land by the farmer or land manager (as oppose to threats driven by other pressures such as soil sealing, contamination from non-agricultural sources) Delivered at the national and regional level hence application and requirements may vary and coverage of agricultural land area. Offers an opportunity for proactive management change but it depends on the prioritization and national rules applied. In addition, CAP reform post 2020 looks set to significantly amend the CAP infrastructure and mechanisms for prioritizing investments. See details analysis in Sections 3.2 and 3.3 
Forest Strategy (COM(2013)659) Very relevant to the management of rural land and priorities, but not specifically to agricultural land * S D * Very relevant to soil protection, albeit on non-agricultural land but given principles of subsidiary much depends on action delivered by Member States and/or linked to choices in terms of spending of EU funding including under the RDPs National policies and through spending of EU funds including under RDPs
Industrial (point source) contamination
Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) Enacts the polluter pays principle to prevent and remedy environmental damage to land, water and biodiversity – land being any land contamination that creates a significant risk to human health. The word "soil" is not used, but "land contamination" is. *** B I Applies to all land including agricultural land emissions to agricultural land or from agricultural activities. Relates primarily to point source contamination of land and incidents where land management results in the pollution of water/impacts on biodiversity. Importantly requires preventative action as well as remediation Binding measure, requires actions by MSs to implement, identify risks etc and to bring polluters to account if incidents occur.
Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU) Proactively seeks to reduce and prevent emissions to land, water and air * B D Focuses on industrial emissions May indirectly protect agricultural land from transferred emissions of contaminants from industrial point sources Binding rules implemented through permit conditions by Member States control and limit polluting activities
Landfill Directive (99/31/EC) Controls all aspects of landfilling of waste including permitting, site management, monitoring and reporting * B D Limited link, although historically illegal or uncontrolled landfilling often took place on agricultural land Aims to control pollution from landfilling potentially reducing contamination risk on agricultural land Binding rules linked to permitting and operating and end of life management of landfill sites delivered by MSs.
National Emission Ceiling Directive (2001/81/EC) Requires MS to limit their annual national emissions of pollutants including SO2, NOx, VOC and NH3. *** B D Relevant to the diffuse contamination of agricultural soils Highly relevant to the diffuse contamination of agricultural soils and loss of soil quality associated in particular with acidification but also wider contamination. NEC is also important as it is a key policy that is determined by the ability of soils to deal with contaminants and consequences of deposition. Agriculture also contributes to emissions under the NEC specifically dominating NH3 emissions hence this may provide a mechanism for changing management Sets national limits on emissions based on the degree of impact on receiving soils. Member States have to develop policy tools to meet their given ceiling.
Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) Lays down measures to protect the environment and human health by preventing or reducing impacts of the generation and management of waste. * B D Limited relevance except if historically waste management was taking place on agricultural land in an uncontrolled way Requires that MS undertake waste management without endangering human health or the environment and in particular without risk to water, air, soil, plants or animals Requires MS to implement actions relating to the limiting of emissions and permitting of waste management, handling and transportation as well as disposal.
Cohesion Fund (Regulation 1303/2013) Offers opportunity to invest in soil specifically focused at decontaminating brownfield sites and disaster management including flooding * R&D/F D Only in that increased brownfield development may reduce (in a limited way) agricultural land losses Impacts on point source contamination, limited relevance to agricultural land Provides funds to support investment
European Regional Development Fund (Regulation 1303/2013) Offers the opportunity to invest in soils but the emphasis is on urban regeneration and decontamination of brownfield sites. There are also potential links in terms of disaster resilience to flooding and adaptation * R&D/F D Not focused on agricultural soils and other competing priorities Contamination but primarily linked to urban point sources Provides funds to support investment
State Aid Guidelines (2014 C200/1) The guidelines set out how MS may use national support in line with provisions of the internal market * R&D/F D Limited given single market rule Focus on remediation of contaminated sites where no third party can be identified/held legally responsible. State aid is also permitted for resource efficiency under certain conditions this may extend to soil protection Sets out rules within which MS can fund measures nationally.
Diffuse pollution and water management
Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and linked measures the groundwater and drinking water Directives Aimed at protecting and improving the qualitative and quantitative status of water bodies. Many aspects of the WFD contribute to positive soil outcomes as: many of the threats to water arrive in water bodies via soils; the management framework of the WFD i.e.use of river basin management plans encourages wider catchment integrated planning which can provide a platform for coordinated soil protection *** B D Depending on the implementation of local river basin management plans and pressures this can push towards changes in soil management practices The WFD is explicitly relevant to the control of pollutants and nutrients, water erosion, flooding and indirectly relevant to linked threats such as compaction, loss of SOM, soil sealing etc. Level and nature of soil protection on agricultural land will depend on the quality of water status and priorities set out in local river basin management plans. However, there remains a significant implementation challenge and without this being addressed many of the knock on benefits for soils will not be addressed. The Commission assessment of RBMP (COM(2015)120) found few examples of additional measures to tack pressure on water bodies.
Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) Aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting good farming practices. Integral part of the water framework Directive. Requires the allocation of nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZs) where measures are adopted to restrict nitrate application. *** B D Limits use of N based fertilizers on agricultural land associated with vulnerable water bodies Designed to address the specific threat of diffuse pollution, although specifically diffuse pollution of water rather than of soils. However, in delivering dramatically reduced nitrogen inputs to soils or limiting/managing N inputs better other soil benefits can result from the more holistic management of the soil resource. Delivered by limits on areas designated as NVZs. However, NVZs are designated based on water quality indicators and needs not those of the soil. Can be a strong push to change land management and towards better consideration of soil management but only applies to designated areas of Europe.
Pesticide Framework Directive (2009/128/EC) Primary focus is to protect human health and the environment from possible risks associated with the use of pesticides. Includes provisions controlling pesticide use, storage, management, awareness raising re good practice, limits on certain types of practices, training ** B I Soil protection is a beneficiary of action rather than the intended primary output. Focused on reducing pollution (diffuse and point source) associated with pesticide use and management. In addition soil threats including erosion and compaction are noted as risk factors increasing the likely wider impact on pesticide use. Implementation is focused around National Action Plans (which define national objectives, targets, measures and timetables) and strongly linked to other key policies such as CAP requirements
Sewage Sludge Directive (86/278/EEC) Places limits upon and sets out provisions for the use of sewage sludge on agricultural land. Aims to protect the environment and health but also specify the conditions under which sewage sludge may be used as a soil additive. *** B D Directly aimed at protection agricultural soils from contamination Aims to maximize the appropriate use of a soil improver resource and also minimize risk of contamination of agricultural soils. Delivered through limits to sewage sludge addition and rules of testing for contaminants.
Nature protection, land and soil sealing
Habitats (92/43/EEC) and Birds Directives (2009/147/EC) HD – Establishes a framework for the protection of biodiversity in the whole EU including special areas of conservation (SACs) as part of the Natura 2000 network.
BD – Framework for establishing the conservation of all species of naturally occurring birds in the EU, requires designation of special protected areas (SPAs) and conservation measures associated 
** B I Implies protection and management of land within SACs/SPAs to deliver favorable conservation status, many SACs/SPAs focus on agricultural land  Not specific to soil threats, MS are free to select the most suitable measures to increase conservation status and this may include measures to promote improved soil quality. Types of actions include reduced inputs, reduced fragmentation of habitat, reduced intensity of agricultural management i.e. reduced areas of monoculture  MS are required to deliver the establishment of SACs/SPAs and their management. However, implementation approaches and priorities vary across MSs. 
Biodiversity Strategy (COM(2011)0244) Sets the EU 2050 vision and 2020 targets for maintaining and protection biodiversity ** S I Not specific to agricultural land but potentially relevant Does not explicitly address soil protection but a number of its targets and actions will indirectly address a number of soil threats given these may be also linked to habitat degradation or loss – including indirectly links to acidification, compaction, contamination, erosion, flooding, loss of SOM Provides no mandatory requirements but actions delivered via EU biodiversity laws an integration of biodiversity into non-nature policies e.g. agricultural policies including GAEC, Greening and RDPs
Soil Sealing Guidelines (SWD(2012)101) Guidelines, non-binding setting out options for MS action on soil sealing ** S D Protection of land and potentially agricultural utility Focus on soil sealing although all action is non-binding, aimed at improving practice and sharing best practices No mandatory mechanisms, information and up to MS to adopt approaches as they see fit
Floods Directive (2007/60/EC) Establishes an approach to flood risk management includes a three step process: national preliminary flood risk assessment; producing flood hazard and risk maps; putting in place flood management plans ** B D No mandatory or voluntary requirements are explicitly dedicated to soil but potential to impact depending on approaches taken nationally to flood prevention Relevant to issues of soil erosion, compaction and soil sealing Delivered via MS Flood Management Plans and the coverage and focus of these will vary. Likely to rely on CAP actions for example on soil erosion etc
Environmental Impact Assessment Directive EIA is triggered to identify the environmental impacts of a project, this might include soil impacts and potential mitigation measures to be applied to soil management during development and ongoing management of the project. ** B I EIA could be triggered by land use change/ change in agricultural uses. Not relevant to a specific threat although important for soil threats linked to land use esp for example soil sealing, loss of SOM linked to conversion of land use EIA is binding on MS i.e.they must conduct EIAs, however, trigger levels can vary in particular in terms of protection afforded to agricultural land uses
Climate and energy policy
Adaptation Strategy (COM(2013)216) Provides an overarching framework for adaptation through different voluntary mechanisms, no mandatory requirements for action on soil protection but aim is to increase national adaptation strategies which will include soil protection aspects ** S D ** Explicitly highlights soil erosion, flooding and implied links to compaction, Loss of SOM, soil sealing Through use of RDPs under pillar 2 of the CAP; through selection of appropriate LIFE programme projects, by MS mainstreaming adaptation into national policies; through MS national action on flooding and spatial planning
Effort Sharing Decision (406/2009/EC) Sets out the targets for emission reductions from non EU ETS sectors i.e.including agriculture. CO2 emissions from agriculture linked to land uses are managed under LULUCF but ESD covers emissions of NOx and methane which are relevant to soil management regimes ** B I Relevant to the management of soil improvers in particularly i.e.fertilizers and manure There is an indirect link to soil protection as reducing emissions may imply changes to soil management practices or selection of soil management options Feedback between ESR rules and action on the ground is at present directed through the CAP and management promoted
Land Use Land Use Change and Forests (LULUCF) Decision (529/2013/EU) Sets out accounting rules applicable to emissions and removals of GHGs resulting from land use and land use change and forestry activities. To 2020 LULUCF is not considered as part of the EU’s emission reduction package but provides a basis for reporting the baseline. Post 2020 proposals under negotiation anticipate emissions will need to be ‘no debit’ in the LULUCF sector and it will be possible to offset a proportion against future emissions covered by the effort sharing agreement. ** B D Relevant to the management of land and land use. Potential link to protection of carbon rich soils and management that promotes SOM retention and other associated soil quality benefits Directly links to SOM levels in particular reducing loss of SOM, but also accumulation in agricultural soils LULUCF post 2020 has a potentially important role, however, connectivity between the high level goal and mechanisms for achieving management change currently unclear/mechanisms for recognizing positive intervention. MS will be responsible for their own inventories. Relies on recognition of ag. land needs and monitoring to see change.
Renewable Energy Directive (2009/77/EC) Promotes the use of renewable energy sources in the European energy mix, but contains specific sustainability criteria for the production of feedstocks for biofuels and bioliquids. Future amends to RED may include provisions for residue retention to secure SOM retention in areas where crops or residues are harvested for use as energy feedstocks * B D Limited relevance at present as rules on soil protection specified did not emerge re sustainability criteria, may be future links associated with residue retention and SOM management. Explicitly relates to SOM in that it specifies biomass feedstocks be produced outside high carbon stock areas. Future amends anticipated to include rules on residue management to retain SOM Implemented via a system of voluntary schemes that oversee management of feedstocks. If a farmer wishes material to be sold for biofuels and energy users wish to claim associated subsidies for renewable energy production feedstocks must be certified.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see


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