Earthy Solutions – Practical Research for Preserving Europe’s Soils

Published on
September 24, 2018

For the past five years, the research project RECARE has brought together Europe’s leading soil scientists to focus on practical experiments around management practices that can preserve and restore Europe’s soils.

From experimental sites in the shadow of a volcano in Iceland to the mountain terraces of Cyprus, RECARE scientists have worked with local farmers and land managers conducting experiments to protect soils from a range of threats that are damaging this vital ecosystem. Damage to the soil threatens people’s lives through issues such as flooding, but also undermines the productivity of soils leading to billions of Euros lost from agricultural production.

Managerial and technological solutions

The solutions focus on a range of management practices, such as the use of mulching with forestry residues or straw to prevent soil erosion after forest fires. Other solutions are technological, such as the use of submerged drains to avoid the loss of organic matter in peat soils. Some solutions look to longer-term threats, such as heavy metal pollution at sites in Romania and Spain, combatting problems in some of the most polluted places in Europe. Some of the sites are considering the long-term decline in soil structure and fertility that undermine people’s livelihoods, leaving communities vulnerable and the environment degraded. Through research across diverse experimental sites throughout Europe, working with local communities, the research team have devised practical answers to the soil threats that we all face.

From research to policy

At a conference on the 27th of September in Brussels, this research team is coming together with policymakers and influencers to discuss the results of the RECARE project, and especially the messages it has for future policies on soil management in Europe. In a day of discussion, and debate, the science will be outlined, policy options considered and the key messages of the project shared.

“This project has allowed us to focus on working with land managers to make sure our experiments are ready to be used and become part of the policy process,” says scientific project co-ordinator Rudi Hessel of Wageningen Environmental Research. “At a time when people are increasingly concerned about the environmental threats we all face, and often feel powerless, we can show them our techniques that can make a real difference.”

Engaging with local farmers

Francesco Morari of Padua University: “The RECARE project has allowed my team to engage with local farmers in new ways and through that dialogue we have been able to discuss ways in which science can help further protect the soil. Through RECARE we have made some films about the threats to the soil and our work, which has inspired a discussion in our region that has included not only farmers but through the TV many other local people.”

Ana Frelih Larsen, Ecologic Institute, Berlin: “Drawing on the expertise of soil scientists we have had an expert team of social scientists and policy specialists working to understand how sustainable soil management can be achieved by working with the community. This research has given us many valuable insights that we have been able to relate to policy challenges, and on the 27th we will be engaged in discussing how we ensure this knowledge is used in future decision making.”