Wroclaw & Poznan, Poland

Case Study Experiment - Soil Sealing

Soil information based spatial planning for soil protection

The researchers in Poland tested the effects of implementing soil sealing maps in spatial planning for improved soil protection.  Working in two Polish cities, Wroclaw and Poznan the researchers produced a baseline 'no action' scenario; ex-post soil sealing maps to raise awareness; ex-ante sealing forecast to change spatial development plans; delineation of functional areas to be protected against sealing


 poznan map  


Map of soil sealed area in Poznań - 2013  Progress in the soil sealing process in POZNAŃ 

For more information about this research please contact Grzegorz Siebielec This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Geographical description

Both Wroclaw and Poznan developed on relatively good productive soils, including fluvisols and cambisols. In Wroclaw, agricultural lands still cover 43%, sealed surfaces 39%, forests 7%, water bodies 3.2% of the total area. Big rivers flow through both cities causing a flooding risk in some periods, especially in winter (e.g. extreme flood in 1997 caused vast devastation of Wroclaw). The case study will be supplemented by a desktop study of 2 other cities in Europe (Seville in Spain, The Hague in the Netherlands), using methodology developed in URBAN SMS.  In this study, the expansion of these cities will be determined using satellite images, and the impact of this expansion on soil and soil related functions and services will be evaluated using soil maps. The remote sensing data representing different time periods will be used for assessing urban sprawl trends and the produced land use change maps will be superimposed over maps describing soil quality. The remote data to be used are Landsat images for 1980 – 2013 period and for selected cities LiDAR information for more detailed studies of soil sealing and distribution of permeable layers as a result of policy instruments.
Case Study – Poznań
Poznan is one of the biggest cities in Poland. It is the administrative capital of the Wielkopolska region. The city area is 261.85 km2 but the total Case Study area covers nearly 2,158 km2 including rural areas . Population of the city is 551,000 with the density up to 2,100 people per km2. Mean elevation within the city boarders is 86.6 m and mean slope is 1.8%. Poznan is divided into two parts by the Warta River. The city is known for having the smallest unemployment rate in Poland; 4.2%. Mean annual precipitation is 516 mm, which is lower than the mean annual precipitation for whole Poland – 600 mm. The mean annual temperature 8.5oC is higher than average for Poland – 7.3oC. As a consequence, Wielkopolska faces droughts especially in the vegetation period. The Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development coordinates the program “Agricultural drought monitoring system”. The main idea of this program is to give precise information about the drought threat to the government and farmers, based on combined input on soil moisture, temperature and precipitation.
Case Study – Wroclaw
Wroclaw is the capital of the Lower Silesia region, located in the south west of Poland. The population of the city is 633,000 with a density up to 2,160 people per km2. The main part of the city is located on the south west of the Odra River which divides the city into 12 small islands. Total city area is 293 km2, with mean elevation 141.4m and mean slope 1.7%. Wroclaw is the fourth most populated city in Poland. Actual administrative city borders are inefficient for evaluating urban sprawl impacts on suburban areas and their ecosystem services. Therefore, the Case Study covers also adjacent administrative units. Mean annual precipitation is 576 mm, with the highest values in June, July and August. High precipitation during the summer months creates a risk of flooding. Most severe flood took place in 1997, when approximately 45% of the city area was flooded. Mean annual temperature is 8.5oC. The lowest mean temperature is recorded for January (-0.4oC), the highest for July (18.8oC). As the area is located at the foot of the Sudety Mountains warmer air is being held up on the leeward side of the mountains.

Main soil threat

WroclawMapIncrease in built up area in Wroclaw since 1991 (red)Constant urban development creates pressure on soils within the administrative borders of both cities and suburban areas. Often, uncontrolled land take and sealing decrease the extent of high quality soils resource (e.g. productive soils with high clay and organic matter) that is able to provide numerous functions: crop and biomass production, water retention, contaminant filtration, and the provision of biodiversity. For example in Wroclaw, there is growing pressure on most valuable soils located in the southern part of the city. Preliminary data indicates that in the last 15 years, a large reduction of high quality soils has been observed. Since urban soils were recently (2009) excluded from legal protection (the act on agricultural and forest land protection) there is a risk that the continued trend of quality soil being lost to urbanization could continue into the future. There is limited information on trends in sealing of soil resources (what soils are being sealed) and the impact of existing regulations and development strategies. Limited awareness, lack of soil protection rules and competing land use interests of different stakeholder groups are constraints to the sustainable management of soil resources.

Drivers and pressures

Main drivers of soil sealing include the need for new housing, industry, business locations and transport infrastructure, mainly in response to a growing population and a demand for better quality of life and living standards (Ceccarelli et al., 2014).

Status of soil threat

According to the EEA soil sealing map - below, 2.3% of the European Union’s territory was already sealed in 2006 and 4.4% of the territory was subject to artificial surface formation (Prokop et al., 2011). In the European Union, artificial surfaces are on average sealed by 51%, but this fraction varies strongly among Member States, depending on dominant settlement structures and the intensity of the interpretation of artificial surfaces (Prokop et al., 2011). According to the CORINE land cover spatial database, artificial areas covered 4.1%, 4.3% and 4.4% of the EU territory in 1990, 2000 and 2006, respectively. This corresponds to an 8.8% increase of artificial surface in the EU between 1990 and 2006. In the same period, population increased by only 5%. In 2006, each EU citizen allocated 389 m2 of artificial surfaces, which is 3.8% or 15 m2 more compared to 1990 (Prokop et al., 2011).
In Poznań, as a consequence of urban sprawl, intensive soil sealing takes place even outside the administrative boundaries of the city. In the whole area, 53.3% are arable lands, located mostly on loams, silts or sandy clays soils (below - left). Wielkopolska province has the highest farm productivity per ha in Poland, focused mainly on animal farming for meat production. Only 3.7% of land use is covered by pastures. Forests are covering mostly sandy and loamy sandy soils in the north east and the south west of the area. Based on EEA data, soil sealing is identified on 16% of the city area (below, right).
Dominant top soil texture and soil sealing % (left) and dominant land use types (right) in Poznań
In Wroclaw, the urbanization pressure is especially intensive in the southern part of the city and suburbs, where most productive soils are located. Dominant top soil textures (88.6% of the total Case Study area) are loams, silts or sandy clays (below, left). 60.5% of the area is used as arable land and only 4.6% as pastures. Large size farms are focused mainly on cereal production. Forests constitute 13.8% of the area mostly near by the Odra River and its tributaries. Approximately 16% of the whole area is currently sealed (below, right).
Dominant top soil texture and soil sealing % (left) and dominant land use types (right) in Wroclaw


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)
 Poland Wroclaw land use typesS  Poland Wroclaw area trend land use systemS  Poland Wroclaw trend in land use intensityS
Soil Degradation 
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).
Poland Wroclaw dominant types of soil degradationS Poland Wroclaw degree of degradationS Poland Wroclaw 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.

Poland Wroclaw dominant conservation measuresS Polans Wroclaw effectiveness of conservation measuresS Poland Wroclaw conservation effectiveness trendS


 Land Use 
Poland Poznan land use typesS Poland Poznan area trend of land use systemS Poland Poznan trend in land use intensityS
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).
Poland Poznan dominant types of soil degradationS Poland Poznan degree of degradationS Poland Poznan rate 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.
Poland Poznan dominant conservation measuresS Poland Poznan effectiveness of conservation measuresS Poland Poznan conservation effectiveness trendS

 RECARE data repository

Data collected from the case study area for the project are held in a repository on the European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC) website hosted by Joint Research Centre (JRC).  Below is a list of the data held.

  • General info
  • Precipitation
  • Temperature
  • Soil Parameters
  • Soil Erodibility
  • K-Stoniness
  • Organic carbon content
  • Rainfall Erosivity
  • Topsoil Organic Carbon
  • Wind Erodible Fraction

To access the data click HERE (currently only accessbile with  EUECAS login details)

Effect of soil threat on soil function

The stakeholder inclusive analysis in cities of Central Europe revealed that in general two economic soil functions “Housing and workplace provision” and “Transport infrastructure” were set as most important by the stakeholders (Siebielec et al, 2011). These circumstances make soil protection activities even more important because of economy related pressure on soils. On the other hand all environmental soil functions were classified as important to protect in all cities since the stakeholders recognize the existing negative trends in soil management (below). The participatory impact assessment performed for various soil protection scenarios revealed that the baseline (no change in regulations) scenario would be favorable to economic functions “Housing and workplace provision” and “Transport infrastructure” whereas all environmental functions were deemed as threatened (Siebielec et al., 2011) (below).
Left: ranking of soil function importance in cities of Central Europe based on stakeholder opinions;
Right: range and mean impact of baseline scenario on soil/land functions (across 6 cities of Central Europe).

Administrative and socio-economic setting

The major drivers of soil management under urbanization pressures are soil protection regulations and spatial planning approaches. Soil protection regulations against conversion of agricultural lands into urban purposes are created by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. In Poland, the major national regulation related to soil and agricultural protection is the law on agricultural and forest land protection (Ustawa z dnia 3 lutego 1995 r. o ochronie gruntów rolnych i leśnych). Protection against conversion of agricultural soils into non-agricultural purposes is represented in this act by the following instrument: “Transformation of agricultural land of high quality (classes I-III) into other uses requires decision of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development if the area of interest exceeds 0.5 hectare. Conversion of organic soils (peat soils) into non-agricultural use requires administrative approval (of lower level) regardless class of soil (these are mainly permanent grasslands)” The same legal act specifies the fees for exclusion of land from agricultural production, which are dependent on soil quality: the higher quality the higher fee is collected. The collected fees are directed to budgets of regional governments (voivodeships) and shall be spent e.g. for soil remediation and reclamation, soil protection against erosion, protection of small retention, sometimes subsidies to soil liming. However, since 2008 the fees for land use change within administrative borders have been abolished, creating a significant pressure on agricultural lands around and within cities.

Management settings

Soil sealing management usually relies on the effective enforcement of soil protection regulations and spatial planning approaches. Various EU funded research projects have dealt with soil sealing mapping and management options. For example, within the URBAN SMS project, an ex-post analysis of land use change was performed, responding to different soil protection regulations in several Central Europe cities. Seven cities served as test areas for the analysis: Milan, Bratislava, Prague, Wroclaw, Stuttgart, Vienna and Salzburg. The analysis involved development of land use change maps based on consistent satellite image data, analysis of land use change trends within a 15-year period (1991/92-2006/07) and subsequent assessment of soils lost during urban development (Siebielec et al., 2010). The analysis revealed that the most valuable soils were efficiently protected in Bratislava. It was assumed that this is, at least partly the result of the regulations present in Slovakia. The soils classified in our assessment as high quality are covered by a fee payment system (1-4 classes from a total of 9). In Stuttgart and Milan the sealing of high quality soils was rather proportional to their share in the total soil pool. The assessments performed for Wroclaw, Prague, Vienna and Salzburg revealed trends of conversion of the most valuable soils into urban uses (Siebielec et al., 2010).

Huber and Kurzweil (2012) summarized spatial planning approaches in cities of Central Europe. In Germany (Baden-Württemberg), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), Italy (Piemonte, Lombardia) and the Czech Republic (City of Prague), basically a three-tiered system is in place. This implies that obligatory urban planning instruments and procedures exist on federal state level (corresponding with region level in Italy), regional level (corresponding with province level in Italy and NUTS 3 level in the Czech Republic), and local (municipality/city) level. It is worth noting that there are larger similarities between Austria and Germany than towards Italy or the Czech Republic, whose planning systems are characterized by some particularities. Slovenia (City of Celje), the Slovak Republic (Bratislava) and Poland (Pulawy) currently have a basically two-tiered system, with obligatory planning instruments in Slovenia being in force on the national and the municipality level only, but not on the regional level, whereas the Slovak Republic and Poland have binding instruments on the regional and municipality level (and, in addition, a non-binding spatial development concept on national level).

Stakeholder involvement

Relevant end-users and local stakeholder groups include:

  • Local administration (e.g. environmental departments)
  • Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (policy makers)
  • Spatial planners
  • Developers

Preliminary analysis revealed that the steering of some new constructions to areas with lower quality soils is practicable. Awareness raising and information produced within the project will be provided to stakeholders.

Analysis of soil sealing trends through the classification of satellite images representing different periods of development of the cities: 1990's to 2009 and 2009-2013 (after exclusion of urban areas from agricultural land protection regulation)
will be performed for all four cities.

Stakeholders will contribute to the assessment of best management practice examples (planning tools, tax instruments, compensation mechanisms, fee payment, etc.) in terms of feasibility for local situation and for Poland. The discussion will be initiated on the shape of future soil protection laws in Poland.  Stakeholders will help to assess spatial planning scenarios (e.g. protection and no protection of high-quality soils) and define reliable soil protection goals.

This web page is authored by:

G. Siebielec and T. Miturski from Instytut Uprawy Nawozenia I Gleboznawstwa, Panstowowy Instytut Badawczy, Poland

With contributions from: Ioannis K. Tsanis and Ioannis N. Daliakopoulos (Deliverable 3.1) and Godert van Lynden, Zhanguo Bai, Thomas Caspari (Deliverable 3.2).


European Commission (2012): Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing, SWD(2012) 101 final

Huber S. and A. Kurzweil (Eds.) (2012) Guide Municipal Soil Management. Urban SMS project: Deliverable number: 3.4.2, pp.57

Prokop G, Jobstmann H., A. Schonbauer (2011): Report on best practices for limiting soil sealing and mitigating its effects. Publisher: European Commission, Brussels, Technical Report - 2011 – 050, ISBN : 978-92-79-20669-6

Siebielec G., A. Lopatka, T. Stuczyński, M. Kozak, M. Gluszynska, J. Koza, A. Zurek, R. Korzeniowska-Puculek (2010): Assessment of soil protection efficiency and land use change. Urban SMS project: Deliverable number: 6.1.2, pp.42

Siebielec G., T. Stuczyński, A. Lopatka, P. Czaban (2011) Stakeholder network for impact assessment of soil protection scenarios. Urban SMS project: Deliverable number: 6.3.1, pp.24