Pan-European research for better soil health across Europe

Published on
February 20, 2023

60-70% of soils in Europe are currently considered to be unhealthy. Recently, the BENCHMARKS project was launched, which brings together a pan-European consortium in a 5-year transdisciplinary research project. Its focus is on monitoring soil health across the continent.

The BENCHMARKS project consists of 29 partners from across Europe, the European Commission, its Joint Research Centre, as well as representatives of the business and land management sectors. It was launched during a ceremony in Wageningen, the Netherlands.

More healthy soils by 2030

A joint assessment undertaken by the European Commission’s Soil Health and Food mission board and Joint Research Centre states that 60-70% of soils in Europe are currently considered to be unhealthy. Causes of this include pollution, excess nutrients, compaction or soil degradation (A Soil Deal for Europe, European Commission, 2022a). Professor Rachel Creamer, project coordinator: “Monitoring for healthy soils should always take the local context into account”.

The Soil Health and Food mission aims to have 75% of European soils healthy or significantly improved by 2030. This is in line with a new EU law on the protection of soil health. The private sector, too, is proposing explicit visions of sustainable food systems. Among those visions are 1000 landscapes for 1 billion people, the 100-million farmers platform of the World Economic Forum, and the Regen10 initiative of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development.

How does BENCHMARKS contribute?

Measuring the success of these public and private initiatives through the harmonised monitoring of European soils is an essential, but enormously complex task. It requires coherent yet context-specific monitoring on multiple scales, for multiple land uses, across all EU member states. BENCHMARKS will work together with stakeholders (farmers, foresters, urban planners, value chain representatives, researchers, local governance and policy makers) from across 24 contrasting landscapes. Together, they will define how to monitor soil health across Europe, while also considering the local context of land management.

The goals of the BENCHMARKS project are:

  1. To provide a clear, easy-to-use tool for evaluating soil health, that is transparent, harmonized, and cost-effective.
  2. To define appropriate indicators that are relevant to the assessment of soil health for a range of land uses and climatic zones across Europe.
  3. A soil health dashboard appropriate for use at a range of scales (from field to European level) for agricultural, forestry, and urban settings.
  4. Contribute to improving existing European policies and regulations related to soil health.

BENCHMARKS receives €12m in funding from the European Commission, as part of the Horizon Europe Call HORIZON-MISS-2021-SOIL-02-02 to validate and further develop indicators for soil health and functions.

BENCHMARKS is a consortium of 29 partner organisations from 10 EU countries plus Norway, Switzerland and the UK. These include universities, applied research institutes, small and medium enterprises and local governmental organisations. The project is coordinated by Professor Rachel Creamer of Wageningen University & Research.