Finding and sharing solutions to

protect our soils

Europe's soil research hub

Who is RECARE-Hub for?

Farmers & Forestry

RECARE-Hub contains the latest information on preventing soil threats, and cost-benefit analysis on proven remediation techniques.


Discover innovative sustainable land management measures that can combat threats to key soil functions.

Policy makers

Find out more about land care strategies relevant to your region and our integrated assessment of existing soil related policy.


Access a wealth of European research data on soil threats and the efficacy of land care strategies.

Teachers & environmentalists

Whether you're a teacher or a concerned environmentalist, find out why Europe's soils are under threat and what researchers are doing to help combat the problems.

Resources designed for you


The soil that underpins Europe's agricultural systems faces numerous threats.

If you are interested in learning about specific soil threats, you can explore the individual threats below. If you want detailed guidance for assessing soil degradation or learning about management measures to prevent and remediate against soil degradation, you might want to head straight over to RECARE's resources.



Isle of Purbeck, UK

Case Study Experiment – Loss of soil biodiversity

The UK case study is assessing the long-term effects of chemical manipulations to the soil and the resulting effect of pH change on soil biodiversity and function.  The experiment involves applying amendments of ferrous sulphate and elemental sulphur.

UKPlotLayoutExperimental plots layout (Created by: Marta Gil Martinez) 


UKexperimentControl Control
UKexperimentFerrousSulphate Ferrous Sulphate
UKexperimentElementalSulphur Elemental Sulphur

Photo credit: Marta Gil Martinez

Preliminary Results


 UKResults1   UKResults3    


  UKResults4Figure 1. Earthworm biomass (a) and abundance by functional group (b) and nematode abundance (c) by feeding group (d) were evaluated across treatments (n=10) in Nov 2016. Acid grassland and heathland were included as reference plots (n=4).


For more information about this RECARE experiment, please contact Mark Tibbett This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Geographical description

The Isle of Purbeck is not a true island but a peninsula of ~200 km2 on the south coast of England. It lies to the West of The New Forest National Park and is in the County of Dorset. It has a mild temperate Atlantic climate with mean annual rainfall of around 777 mm.y-1 and an average temperature of around 11oC. Purbeck is a complex multifunctional, multi-land-use landscape with a range of competing pressures from arable farming, high and low-intensity livestock grazing, touristic land use with quarrying and military areas all expecting their share of the lands' ecosystem services. The soils are highly contrasting in pH, both naturally and through anthropogenic manipulation and are generally sandy to sandy loams, derived from a complex underlying geology.


 Location and Digital Elevation Model (DEM) of the Isle of Purbeck (Source: SRTM).

Main soil threat

The Isle of Purbeck is a multifunctional landscape with enormous pressure placed on soil resources due to the contrasting and competing land uses, past and present. The major soil threat here is a loss of soil biological function, linked to depleted biodiversity due to persistent physical and chemical manipulation of the land. Degradation has been caused by various means, most insidious is the large-scale manipulation of soil pH for competing agriculture uses which has led to heavy lime (and historic marl) application for arable land use, and subsequent intense sulphur application to reverse such previous alkalinisation. The latter was done to provide low-intensity grazing land, in keeping with the traditional and historic land uses of the area. This has led to a landscape with soil pH ranging from 3 to 8.5 often through artificial manipulation. The treatment of the soil in such a way has led to a clear loss in microbiological function where we have seen microbial biomass decline by one-half and biodiversity has been reduced by over two-thirds and where plant-microbe symbionts are absent or of the wrong type. The landscape has also been subject to other degrading activities including extensive recreational use in some areas, military disturbance (including the use of high powered ordnance) and quarrying. These have all contributed to a loss of biodiversity in the soil to varying degrees.

Other soil threats
The acidification has caused significant loss of microbial diversity and plant life leading to areas subject to soil erosion which can occasionally leads to complete top soil loss. The acidification has also led to the mobilisation of toxic metal cations in soils and run-off which provides additional threats to the effected sites and the surrounding environment (Green et al., 2007). Quarrying and military land uses alone have led to degraded soils that are poorly productive and fertile for reasons beyond biodiversity loss. Unrelated directly to biodiversity effects, but likely affecting biodiversity, the Case Study also includes areas that display significant soil erosion, as well as land degraded and threatened by coastal erosion and cliff failures.

IsleofPurbeck1Land areas of contrasting acidification



The challenge is to rejuvenate the critical biodiversity in the soil after disturbance and this requires a detailed assessment of the functions that have been lost (nutrient cycling, symbionts, decomposition, pathogen control and so on). The relationship between diversity and function is not well established in soils generally; partly, at least, due to the large component of functional redundancy, and this will need to be assessed for our soils. The reintroduction of lacking diversity may require interventions such as inoculation, modified tillage, modified nutrient management and phytoremediation, depending on the initial results of the study.

Natural Environment

Geology & Soils

Geology of the Isle of Purbeck is shown in the table below. Table below shows the area coverage of geological deposits, indicating that Tertiary sand, Jurassic limestone and clay, and drift over Mesozoic and Tertiary clay and loam constitute almost 60% of the study area. There is also an abundance of chalk deposits, which contribute to intensive quarrying activity in the area.

fig172 Geology of the study area. Source: NSRI (2001)


GeologyArea [ha]% Area


Area %

Tertiary sand 5,425.04 26.01  
Jurassic limestone and clay 3,378.31 16.19 42.20
Drift over Mesozoic and Tertiary clay and loam 3,341.61 16.02 58.22
Mesozoic and Tertiary sand and loam 1,744.16 8.36 66.58
Chalk 1,239.96 5.94 72.53
Sandy drift 1,214.27 5.82 78.35
Jurassic and Cretaceous clay 660.97 3.17 81.52
River alluvium over peat 626.27 3.00 84.52
Other 3,229.63 15.48 100.00
TOTAL 20,860.22 100.00 100.00

Distribution of main geological deposits within the Isle of Purbeck

The soils in the Isle of Purbeck are highly contrasting in pH, both naturally and through anthropogenic manipulation and are generally sandy to sandy loams, derived from a complex underlying geology. They are dominated by sandy and clayey soils oftentimes situated over chalk and limestone deposits. The following figure and table provide detailed information on the soils of the area. These soils are characterized by high organic carbon contents, with soils containing up to 2% of organic carbon constituting a relatively small portion of the area (see below).


Soil associations of the case study area at mapping scale of 1:250 000. Explanations of soil association symbols are given below. Source: NSRI (2001)


Soil AssociationDominant soil description Area [ha]% Area


Area %

641b deep sandy 5,425.04 26.01  
343d shallow clay over limestone 3,378.31 16.19 42.20
711g seasonally wet loam to clayey over shale 3,341.61 16.02 58.22
571g loam over sandstone 1,744.16 8.36 66.58
341 shallow silty over chalk 1,221.65 5.86 72.44
861a seasonally wet deep sand 1,214.27 5.82 78.26
712b seasonally wet deep clay 660.97 3.17 81.43
813a seasonally wet deep clay over peat 626.27 3.00 84.43
Other   3,247.94 15.58 100.00
TOTALS 20,860.22 100.00 100.00 100.00

Main soil associations of Isle of Purbeck listed in descending area coverage order. The table provides further explanation to soil association symbols(above)


Average organic carbon contents in the top 30 cm layer of soil. Source: NSRI (2001).

Land Use

Land use of the Isle of Purbeck is dominated by pastures, followed by agricultural land and heathland (below).


Major land use classes within the Isle of Purbeck case study area derived from the CORINE 2006 land use/land cover map (EEA, 2014). The black lines indicate the location of parishes. The protected areas comprise several datasets (see text for details) and were compiled from data obtained from the British Environment Agency (EA, 2014)


A fair part of the area is covered with either coniferous or deciduous woodland. Approximately a quarter of the area is under some form of protection, and a large part of Lulworth parishes is owned by the Ministry of Defence. Settlements are mostly discontinuous, with the largest concentration around the town of Swanage. The landscape has also been subjected to other degrading activities including extensive recreational use in some areas, military disturbance (including the use of high powered ordnance) and quarrying.



Image of Landscape Matrix in the Isle of Purbeck


The Case Study has a mild temperate Atlantic climate with mean annual rainfall of around 777 mm y-1 and an average temperature of around 11 oC.



Left: Average annual; right: mean monthly precipitation and temperature at the Isle of Purbeck.

Drivers and pressures

The drivers to soil biodiversity decline are many and include many soil threat considered in RECARE. Many of the drivers related to the either the overuse of land (by people or animals) or changes in land management due to policies enacted at EU, National and regional levels. The major threats include: soil compaction on arable, woodland and pasture land, footpath erosion and compaction, soil sealing, coastal erosion, acidification of chalk hills by gorse, quarrying and salt blast (windblown salt from the sea). All of these impact on soil biodiversity.

Status of soil threat

Preliminary data indicate a significant decline in parts of the microbial community. Preliminary analysis suggests significant shits in microbial function as a result of acidification.

ThreatExisting solutionPotential solution
Soil compaction on arable land Cultivation technique, proper timings, subsoiling, tillage technique Drainage
Soil compaction on pasture land    
Soil compaction in woodland Using horses instead of heavy machinery during forestry work to reduce damage to the forest floor  
Footpath erosion and compaction   Changing access policy, re-routing, building stone steps
Soil sealing   Preventing further residential developments, houses built at lower densities, gardens rather than concrete, proportional approach to development
Intensive agriculture Incentivising less intensive agriculture, a farmers cooperative promoting local products Precision agriculture, common agricultural policy, people prepare to pay more for food
Coastal erosion Soil nails, netting, drainage to prevent slippage  
Acidification of chalk hills by gorse Clearing of the gorse, grazing, burning  
Quarrying Restoration programmes dictated by planning policy  
Preventing soil development by restoring heathland   Ceasing the restoration
Wind erosion on arable land   Plant trees around field, increase vegetation cover with grass
Salt blast    
Cultural ignorance   Education, the Common Agricultural Policy
Proximity of large urban area    

List of soil threats identified including existing management options and potential future solutions


Maps on the current state of land use, soil degradation and soil conservation in the case study area have been produced using the WOCAT (World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) methodology

The steps of this process are as follows:

1) The area to be mapped is divided into distinctive land use systems (LUS).
2) The team gathers the necessary data on soil degradation and conservation for each LUS using a standardised questionnaire, in close consultation with local land users, and supported where possible by remote sensing or field data.
3) For each LUS, the soil degradation type, extent, degree, impact on ecosystem services, direct and indirect causes of degradation, as well as all soil conservation practices, are determined.
4) Once collected, the data is entered in the on-line WOCAT-QM Mapping Database from which various maps can be generated.

Following the principles of all WOCAT questionnaires, the collected data are largely qualitative, based on expert opinion and consultation of land users. This allows a rapid and broad spatial assessment of soil degradation and conservation/SLM, including information on the causes and impacts of degradation and soil conservation on ecosystem services.

More details about the methodology used to produce these maps and their interpretation can be found here.

Land Use (click on maps to expand)

United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck land use typesS United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck area trend land use systems United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck trend in land use intensity


The degree of degradation reflects the intensity of the degradation process, whilst the rate of degradation indicates the trend of degradation over a recent period of time (approximately 10 years).

United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck dominant types of soil degradationS United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck degree of degradationS United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck rate of degradationS

Conservation measures

The "effectiveness" of conservation is defined in terms of how much it reduces the degree of degradation, or how well it is preventing degradation. The Effectiveness trend indicates whether over time a technology has increased in effectiveness.

United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck dominant conservation measuresS United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck effectiveness of conservation measuresS United Kingdom Isle of Purbeck conservation effectiveness trendS

Administrative and socio-economic setting

Protected areas depicted in figure above are under a combination of several forms of protection. These are RAMSAR sites, Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC), and Special Protection Areas (SPA). RAMSAR sites are dedicated to protection of wetlands and waterfowl habitats. SSSIs aim at protection of sites hosting wildlife and notable natural features. SACs are areas that offer protection to wildlife and habitats as an initiative of an EU directive, and SPAs are dedicated to conservation of wild birds.


 Population in the Purbeck District (left) and GDP per capita trends (right)

Management options

The challenge here is to rejuvenate the critical biodiversity in the soil after disturbance and this requires a detailed assessment of the functions that have been lost (nutrient cycling, symbionts, decomposition, pathogen control and so on). Generally, the relationship between diversity and function is not well established in soils, partly, due to the large component of functional redundancy. This relationship will need to be assessed for the soils of the Case Study. The reintroduction of lacking diversity may require interventions such as inoculation, modified tillage, modified nutrient management and phytoremediation depending on the initial results of the study.

Stakeholder involvement

Relevant end-users and local stakeholder groups include;

• Farmers, landowner and land managers
• Natural England
• Ministry of Defence
• Dorset County Council
• National Trust

Learning platforms for Stakeholders will be established in order to facilitate knowledge exchange and mutual learning between the different participants from local to national level. Open field days will be held alongside a short course in remedial measures. Potential regulation options will be jointly agreed with stakeholders in the course of our wider consultation and policies at Cranfield University.


EA, 2014.

EEA, 2014.

NSRI, 2001. The National Soil Map of England and Wales 1:250,000 scale. National Soil Resources Institute, Cranfield University, UK.

Latest News

RECARE Conference Desktop 1


RECARE – Preventing and Remediating Degradation of Soils in Europe through Land Care 

RECARE Policy Conference, 27 September 2018 in Brussels

Soils in European Union are a vital environmental resource in need of better protection. Despite the wide recognition of the importance of soils, soil protection efforts in European Union have been partial, fragmented and insufficient to halt their degradation. Calls for improving this situation have increasingly come from scientists, policymakers, non-governmental organisations and citizens. The discussions and negotiations around the design of European policies for post-2020 period offer the opportunity to improve the current situation.

What is the best way forward for soil protection in the EU? How can we improve EU policies to secure the delivery of soil ecosystem services?

These questions will be at the core of the Final Conference of the RECARE project to take place on 27 September 2018 in Brussels, presenting project findings on:

  • effective strategies for prevention and remediation of soil threats and their uptake among land managers
  • the impacts of European policies, and
  • options for future policy responses

The event will offer an opportunity to discuss how RECARE results can influence the design of future European policies on soil protection.



The conference agenda is available here.


The conference will take place at:
Les Ateliers des Tanneurs
Rue des Tanneurs 60A
1000 Bruxelles

Please click here to locate the conference venue on Google Maps.


To register for the conference, please, fill in our registration form: 

To keep up with RECARE, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Case Study Sites

 Click on the map below to find out more about RECARE's case study sites
Case Studies

Project Partners


RECARE is multidisciplinary team of 27 different organisations assessing the current threats to Europe's soils and innovative solutions to prevent further soil degradation.

Academic Contact
Professor Coen Ritsema 
Wageningen University
E: coen.ritsema[AT]

Media Contact
Dr Matt Reed
E: mreed[AT]


Funded by the European Commission FP7 Programme, ENV.2013.6.2-4 ‘Sustainable land care in Europe’.

EU grant agreement: 603498.

Project officer: Maria Yeroyanni.

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