As soil formation is an extremely slow process, soil can be considered essentially as a non-renewable resource. Soil provides us with food, biomass and raw materials. It serves as a platform for human activities and landscape and as an archive of heritage and plays a central role as a habitat and gene pool. It stores, filters and transforms many substances, including water, nutrients and carbon. In fact, it is the biggest carbon store in the world (1,500 gigatonnes). These functions must be protected because of both their socio-economic and environmental importance. 

Soil is an extremely complex and variable medium. Over 320 major soil types have been identified in Europe and within each there are enormous variations in physical, chemical and biological properties. Soil’s structure plays a major role in determining its ability to perform its functions. Any damage to its structure also damages other environmental media and ecosystems.
Soil is subject to a series of degradation processes or threats. These include erosion, decline in organic matter, local and diffuse contamination, sealing, compaction, decline in biodiversity, salinisation, floods and landslides. A combination of some of these threats can ultimately lead arid or sub-arid climatic conditions to desertification.

Soil is generally defined as the top layer of the earth’s crust, formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. It is the interface between earth, air and water and hosts most of the biosphere

The EU thematic strategy for soil protection puts forward measures to protect soil and to preserve its capacity to perform its functions * in environmental, economic, social and cultural terms.

The strategy includes setting up a legislative framework for the protection and sustainable use of soil, integrating soil protection into national and EU policies, improving knowledge in this area and increasing public awareness.

The proposal for a Directive is a key component of the strategy, which enables Member States to adopt measures tailored to their local needs. It provides for measures to identify problems, prevent soil degradation and remediate polluted or degraded soil.

Risk prevention, mitigation and restoration

The measures included in the proposal for a Directive include obligatory identification by Member States of areas at risk of erosion, organic matter decline, compaction, salinisation and landslides, or where the degradation process is already underway. This will be done on the basis of criteria set out in the proposal.

Member States must then set objectives and adopt programmes of measures to reduce these risks and to address the effects they have. They must also take steps to limit soil sealing, notably by rehabilitating brownfield sites and, where sealing is necessary, to mitigate its effects.