As World Soil Day on 5th December 2015 marks the ending of the International Year of Soils, it is reassuring to know that scientists will still be working to find solutions to protect our soils.
2015 was declared International Year of Soils by the United Nations in order to raise awareness of the profound importance of soil for human life . As well as providing us with food and fibre, soils can also play an important role in climate change mitigation by storing carbon and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Meaning they have a vital role to play in the current Climate Change discussions in Paris.
As global attention now moves away from soils, scientists working on an EU funded project called RECARE will still be developing solutions to the problems of soil erosion, soil compaction, soil contamination, flooding and landslides, desertification, soil biodiversity loss, decline in organic matter, salinization and soil sealing. The challenges to peoples’ lives and homes are detailed in an international series of documentaries showing how damaging soils, damages lives.
RECARE researchers are working with the local people across Europe in 17 case study areas to put soil saving solutions into practice. Low tech but scientifically informed interventions are set to transform the protection of soils and the lives of those affected by them. Examples include, grassed waterways, straw mulching or terracing to prevent soil erosion and flooding, the use of intercropping to increase soil organic matter, or the planting of particular tree species to remove the toxins from contaminated soils. RECARE has already produced a review of potential measures that can be applied to combat these soil threats .
Professor Coen Ritsema is the RECARE Project Co-ordinator and is based at Wageningen University, The Netherlands. He said,
“As the International Year of Soils draws to a close, it is good to know that work continues to protect this precious resource. The project team is committed to ensuring that we are able to provide people with practical, affordable ways in which they can protect our soil resources. 2015 has raised awareness of the soils vital role in all of our lives, now we need to take action”.
RECARE researchers will continue their work to develop effective prevention, remediation and restoration measures in the battle against soil threats until 2018, when the project is due to finish.
A growing world population has to deal with increasingly urgent issues of food security, flooding and drought, as well as pollution which threaten agricultural productivity and the environment. The answer to all these urgent issues could rest in the soil.
Soil is vital to supporting food production as well as the filtering of water consumed by humans and plants. In addition, soil cycles and stores nutrients which are key to supporting life, as well as holding water to alleviate the stresses of both drought and flooding and storing carbon to mitigate against climate change.
Due to growing human intervention and unsustainable management, soils are currently under increasing threat from a wide range of processes, such as soil erosion, compaction, desertification, salinization, sealing, contamination and loss of organic matter and biodiversity. They need to be adequately protected and conserved to ensure that their many functions and services to all of society are not lost or diminished.
With the importance of soil in mind, the EU has funded a 5 year research project which will be looking at measures to prevent and remediate soil degradation in Europe.
The project, entitled RECARE, will bring together a multidisciplinary team to find ways of assessing the current threats to soils and finding innovative solutions to prevent further soil degradation across Europe, from Iceland to Cyprus. Researchers from 27 different organisations, will share information regarding the current evidence and approaches to resolve the main threats to soils.
Professor Coen Ritsema, based in Soil Physics and Land Management Department at Wageningen University and the lead for the project says that 'the exciting thing about this project is that it seeks to look at soils across the whole of Europe. RECARE includes 17 Case Studies of soil threats that will study the various conditions that occur across Europe and find appropriate solutions using an innovative approach combining scientific and local knowledge".
For more information about the project go to http://www.recare-project.eu/ or the RECARE Information Hub http://www.recare-hub.eu.new. Further information is also available on Twitter @RECARE_EU and Vimeo http://vimeo.com/channels/RECARE
The world's soils face a wide range of threats that could undermine the very basis to our current way of life. Recently Europe has seen flooding that dramatically and tragically demonstrates how such threats can impact on people's lives and property. Poor management of soils can exacerbate flooding and other soil threats. In recognition of the pressing importance of threats to soils the United Nations has designated 2015 as the 'International Year of Soils' to bring to public attention the wide variety of threats to soil and the consequences that these can have on all of our lives. This year is being launched on World Soil Day on the 5th of December 2014.
As well as making people aware of the threats to soil, over the next four years European Scientists involved in an EU funded project called RECARE are working with those who manage soils - farmers, planners, builders, policy makers – to identify practical measures to ensure that these urgent threats are not just stopped, but whenever possible, reversed. Working on 17 case studies across Europe, from Iceland through to Cyprus, they are developing solutions to the problems of flooding and landslides, desertification, soil erosion, soil compaction, the contamination of soils, soil biodiversity, loss of organic matter, salinization and soil sealing.
Rudi Hessel, representing RECARE said. "Often all we hear about is the problems that the environment faces, but the good news is that in projects like RECARE we are not only developing practical answers, but also working with those who manage the soil to get these solutions into use. We all tend to take soil for granted, until something goes wrong and we then need urgent answers. Part of our task in RECARE is to help stop it going wrong in the first place, but when that doesn't happen to ensure that we have the best solutions we can develop ready to hand".
Jane Mills representing the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire, UK said, "The soil doesn't recognise national boundaries, the physical and biological processes of the soil are the same everywhere. Working with colleagues from across Europe means that we can share knowledge and experience. This means that we can bring the best science to bear on the problems more quickly and effectively than we might without this collaboration."
As European science makes history by sampling the surface of a comet in deep space, we need to remember that there is still a great deal to learn about the soil around us. It may not be quite as dramatic as the Rosetta mission that has travelled about 4 billion miles through the solar system to reach the comet, but it is important for us all to learn more about the surface of our home planet. RECARE is part of the effort to bring the best of science to the people of Europe.
Throughout 2015 as part of the International Year of the Soil, the RECARE project will be taking part in a range of events to promote knowledge and awareness of threats to the soil, as well as the management and technological solutions to those problems.