Soil quality or resources
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Soil is a vital and largely non-renewable resource. All vegetation is dependent on soil for the supply of nutrients and water and for root fixation. Soil is a storehouse of minerals, organic matter, water and energy. It is a water filter, a transformer of gases and a gene pool for a huge variety of organisms. Soils are extremely variable; over 320 major soil types have been defined in Europe alone, with remarkable differences in their chemical and physical properties even at a local level. Soil formation is a longstanding process that sometimes takes 1000 years or more. Loss of soils is thus hard to compensate and imposes great costs, while contamination can even lead to almost irreversible land loss.
Soil is an important resource, mostly for farmers. Biodiversity and the beauty of landscape, and therefore also the tourism sector, are dependet on healthy and fertile soils. Soils are also considered an important sink for carbon and thus are also of relevance for climate protection.
Soils have come under increasing pressure, caused especially by erosion by water and wind. Desertification is an important problem in the Mediterranean Member States of the EU. Contamination of soils might trigger contamination of food. Sealing for housing and infrastructure leads to a loss of all soil functions; salinisation, acidification and contamination (e.g. through all kinds of chemicals, wastes, wastewater, as well as nuclear waste) lead to degradation and also to a decline of organic matter. It is estimated that 16 percent of the European Land Area are affected by land degradation.
Despite its importance, soil protection has not been the subject of comprehensive EU action so far. Consequently, the range of adopted policy measures is rather small. In response to concerns about the degradation of soils in the EU, the European Commission has now outlined an agenda for the development of a thematic strategy to protect soils under the framework of the 6th Environmental Action Programme. This strategy shall place soil protection on a level with air and water protection.
According to the Commission's Communication, the Strategy will consist of legislation on a Community information and monitoring system on soil, as well as of a set of detailed recommendations for future measures and action. Several directives have been proposed or already adopted that adress soil protection aspects such as the daughter directive under the air quality framework directive (heavy metals and PAH), the Directive on mining waste or the revised sewage sludge directive (reduction in maximum permitted levels of contaminants in sludge).
According to the Impact Assessment guidelines of the European Commission, the following key questions are of particular importance when examining the impacts of policy initiatives on soil quality or resources:
- IA TOOLS
- The European Commission's site on Soil policies
- The Soil Thematic Strategy
- Communication on the Soil Protection Thematic Strategy
- JRC: IA TOOLS. Supporting inpact assessment in the European Commission. 
This text is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace any reference documents.