Runoff and soil erosion are among the major environmental threats related to agricultural land use in Europe. Important European policies and directives, such as the Water Framework Directive, the European Commission Strategy for Soil Protection as well as Agro-Environmental measures address the issues of runoff and soil erosion.
consequences of erosion are not only on-site: soil degradation, declining
soil fertility, limiting infiltration capacity and water storage. Off-site
impacts include eutrophication of watercourses and lakes, destruction
of wildlife habitats, siltation of dams, reservoirs, rivers, and property
damage by flooding (muddy floods). Runoff prevention and soil protection
have beneficial effects in reducing fllod risk, especially against a background
of climate change.
clear that erosion can also play a very important role in the sequestration
or release of Carbon, Nitrogen and Phosphorus. Carbon and Nitrogen are
strongly associated with eroded soil, while much phosphorus is lost through
adsorption on clay soil fractions. There are therefore a number of important
links with the Kyoto protocol, and with implementation of the Water and
Nitrate directives and with the preparation of the soil protection directive.
and soil erosion occurs under very diverse conditions depending on interactions
between land use, climate, soils and topography. In Mediterranean regions,
erosion is linked to desertification and relates mainly to constraints
of climate and land use. In northern Europe, on the belt of fertile loess-rich
soils stretching from England to Ukraine as well as on glacial till soils
dominant in north-central Europe, erosion is mainly related to farming
practices and land management.
recent decades European research has contributed to an improved understanding
of soil erosion processes and to runoff and soil erosion modelling at
different scales from plot to regional level and of associated off-site
impacts. Coordination of erosion and phosphorous research at national
and European level has encompassed a range of multidisciplinary expertise
from soil science, agronomy, geomorphology, hydrology and, to some extent,
Action 623 "Soil Erosion and Global change" has achieved
its objectives in advancing and communicating the state-of-the-art assessment
of soil erosion problems (especially in relation to global change issues)
by establishing a very active network of European research institutes.
Action 832 "Quantifying the Agricultural Contribution to Eutrophication"
has developed a common conceptual understanding on the processes and potential
impacts of soil-bound phosphorous in agricultural run-off within European
countries and reviewed existing and innovative methodologies with which
to assess the risk of phosphorous loss at the field and catchment scale.
the translation of scientific achievements into innovation and optimisation
of soil conservation and land management has remained very limited. Large
gaps exist between knowledge on processes of runoff and erosion on the
one hand, and their application to soil protection at different scales
from farm to catchment on the other hand. Conceptually, the technical
measures to reduce runoff and erosion might be considered separately from
those socio-economic and policy measures required to implement those technical
measures. One reason for this missing implementation might be that soil
conservation has too often been understood as being predominantly a technical
problem, while the economic, environmental, political and social aspects
have been ignored. As in other areas of environmental research, it has
become evident that technical solutions are not sufficient for problems
with economic and social dimensions. Obviously, a multidisciplinary approach
involving the mutual co-operation of scientific expertise, political interest,
and practical experience is needed to develop soil protection strategies
that are suitable for implementation in practice. To take this important
step, existing research models must integrate political, social and environmental
concerns and be tailored to the specific needs of decision makers at farm
and catchment scales, in order to allow evaluation scenarios.
of national initiatives are now devoted to developing policy towards prevention
of diffuse pollution, through the expansion of policy mechanisms including
agri-environmental measures. Land use policies are mainly driven by socio-economic
factors and Agro-Environmental measures are often top-down. Current schemes
are somewhat limited in their scope and the land areas to which they are
applied. Until recently, soil protection and potential off-site impacts
of runoff are often neglected in this context. It is recognised that current
guidelines on good practices to best practices is required in high risk
areas. It is now a challenge to develop adapted tools to account for socio-economic
drivers as well.
of techniques used to address environmental protection in the different
regions and countries of Europe increases. At the local scale, innovative
agricultural and land management techniques have been developed. Nevertheless,
a good overview of successes and failures, and an evaluation of the efficiency
of these soil conservation techniques are lacking at national and European
level. Whilst the Agro-Environmental, water quality and soil protection
objectives are defined at European and national level, soil conservation
problems act at regional and local scales and therefore need implementation
at these scales. Furthermore, scientific findings have to be implemented
by consulting policy and decision makers on land management.
a new network should include (i) researchers dealing with soil conservation
and assessment of off-site impacts by runoff and erosion, including specialists
in nutrient transport through terrestrial ecosystems (ii) researchers
dealing with farm management and related economic issues, (iii) policy
makers and (iv) end-users in charge of the implementation of soil protection
measures [extension services, civil servants responsible for land management,
B. Objectives and benefits
objective of the Action is to develop an integrated understanding of on-
and off-site impacts of soil erosion at the catchment scale. This requires
the development of tools as well as methodologies to support decision
making for the sustainable management of erosion-sensitive areas at the
farm level, including the implementation of soil protection measures.
this goal, the many barriers hindering the implementation of runoff prevention
and soil protection in Europe have to be identified and analysed on all
levels, including the scientific, political, administrative and management
level. In simultaneously addressing these different levels involved in
land use decision making and soil conservation, network participants will
help to identify and solve conflicts and foster integrated solutions for
soil protection and land management that can be accepted by all interest
groups. Such an approach is consistent with the principles of the Water
Framework Directive and of the planned Soil Protection Framework Directive.
term benefits of this effort will be twofold: firstly, the maintenance
of the fertility and productivity of the soil resources will be improved.
Secondly, the pollution of adjacent properties, infrastructure and resources
such as open water courses will be reduced. Both factors substantially
improve the sustainability of land use in European regions and maintain
both quantity and quality of important resources. Further benefits of
reducing off-site impacts of runoff and erosion are expected for the quality
of important landscape characteristics such as biodiversity, habitat,
cultural and aesthetic components. Results of research will therefore
support the concerns expressed in important EU documents such as the Water
Framework Directive, the European Landscape Convention and the Soil Communication.
working groups will be installed to achieve the major objective of this
COST action. Each working group addresses a different level of decision
making related to land management for soil protection: (1) policy issues,
(2) farm scale management, and (3) catchment integration. Accordingly,
the major objective of improving soil protection and reducing on- and
off-site impacts is sub-divided into three subsidiary objectives:
working groups will conduct their research efforts simultaneously. The
information transfer between the groups will be guaranteed through joint
meetings on a regular basis. However, specific research tasks will probably
require the immediate co-operation between the working groups, particularly
the contribution of WG 1 expertise to that of WG2 and WG3.
The agenda of the Working Groups will be further co-oordinated by their common focus on the key cross-cutting issues as follows:
C. Scientific programme
The scientific programme is structured according to the three working groups to be implemented:
Addressing the issues
of on- and off-site environmental impacts requires consideration not merely
of technical solutions (agronomic, engineering etc) but also of land use
policy. A range of what may be described as 'policies', operating at many
spatial scales, influence land use and farming practices. These may act
as either positive or negative influences in terms of sustainable soil
There exist across
Europe many examples of land management policies which have implications
for sustainable land use at spatial scales from the farm to the region.
Some of these have been successful others have failed. There is also a
temporal aspect to the issue since some historical policies are worthy
of study. This plethora of policies needs evaluation so that lessons can
At the present time,
policies relating to the Accession Countries are highly relevant. Many
such countries have land degradation problems directly related to land
use policy in the past e.g. collectivisation and the creation of large
scale farming systems. These may be efficient in terms of economics but
damage soil health and generate off-farm runoff and pollution problems.
Similarly, land levelling in Mediterranean and Scandinavian countries
is a short-term response with long-term implications for the environment.
Many of the challenges
of designing land use policies that address sustainability issues are
inherent in the concept of Agro-Environmental measures. Some of these
will directly address issues of soil sustainability, others will not.
The research community in collaboration with farmers groups and other
end-users will need to evaluate the impact of new and existing policies.
In particular, the development of policies to support best practice will
have to take into account local and regional variations in soils, topography,
history, farming practice etc to avoid imposing inappropriate Europe-wide
The interaction of
soil protection policies with other environmental objectives such as the
protection of biodiversity and habitats and water quality (Water Framework
Directive) is an important consideration in designing successful policy.
The major aim of WG1
within the COST Action will be to co-ordinate European research efforts
on policies that encourage soil conservation and reduction of off-site
impacts of runoff and erosion. This will include pollution impacts of
phosphates and herbicides that travel in association with soil. Particular
emphasis will be given to policies that lead to best practice.
Methods will include
the collation and analysis of existing data, and the analysis and evaluation
of successes and failures.
Soil erosion in Europe
is inevitably related to agricultural land use. Whereas the offsite damages
of soil erosion are often effective at the catchment scale, the actual
soil erosion risk is determined by decisions on agricultural management
practices taken at the farm scale. Therefore, farm scale management plays
a key role in combating soil erosion and implementing best management
practices and environment protection measures.
Soil erosion and degradation
processes have extensively been studied during the last decades and soil
conservation measures have successfully been developed. Now, runoff and
erosion have been identified as major causes of water quality deterioration
and loss of habitat diversity, there is a need for action at the farm
level, where a lot of decisions has to be taken. Soil protection and conservation
measures on agricultural lands have to fit within the farm organisation,
which involves the simultaneous consideration of various social, economic
and environmental concerns. In many regions, socio-economic problems and
erosion are intertwined: agricultural systems in marginal, i.e. sloping
or mountainous areas have a hard time competing with those from low lands,
resulting in bad agricultural practices, migration and abandonment. Aggravation
of the problem of erosion is not everywhere due to the intensification
of agricultural activities.
Changes in the management
of agricultural land use depend on the decisions of a number of freely
acting decision makers in agricultural enterprises and public authorities
from local levels up to European scale. Farmers generally follow the economic
rationality in their decision making, which is determined by the economic
and political conditions. However, in response to consumer demands policy
makers and farmers increasingly consider the environmental performance
of agricultural production systems. Above, WTO agreements will lead to
an increasing share of EU funded agricultural subsidies linked to the
environmental performance of agricultural practices. Important EC documents
such as the water framework directive and the soil protection communication
support this process and call for sustainable management practices. However,
conservation tillage being one tool of sustainable management is still
not widely implemented in Europe. Farmers hesitate to adopt new techniques,
when investments are high, revenues are not immediately visible and side-effects
with other management targets are unknown. Therefore, tools, indicators
and models are required that integrate physical conditions, farm organisation
and policy instruments in one approach allowing for detailed ex-ante economic
and environmental impact assessment of management practices.
The main objective
of this WG2 is to conduct research on tools and methods to support decision
making in the sustainable management of erosion-sensitive areas at the
farm level. The research efforts will:
EU Policy directives are being managed increasingly at the scale of the river basin, which provides a natural unit for the flow of water, sediment, nutrients and pollutants. At the scale of meso-catchments (c. 100 km2), it is both possible and rational to accumulate the effects of farm scale conservation management, retaining a clear understanding of the underlying physical and chemical processes and bringing them together for an area which is large enough to be relevant for regional planning and within which it is essential to be aware of reservoir sedimentation, river water quality and associated issues. At this scale it is also appropriate to set agricultural impacts on water quality alongside urban and industrial impacts, to provide the overall context for river basin planning required by the Water and Nitrate Directives.
also be built up into larger river basins and regional to national planning
units for which data are needed, and which are responsive to the impact
of climate change, and to the impact of land use changes driven by policy,
economics and/or social changes. The national and European agencies responsible
for implementing the Water and Nitrate Directives are now building up
substantial experience of the inherent difficulties, offering the potential
for interaction with research promoted through the planned COST action.
Elements of research
which we intend to focus on catchment integration in WG2 relate to the
accumulation and generalisation of field and farm scale processes including:
Ongoing research which
will be assessed and synthesised include:
A management committee
(MC) including the elected Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Working Group
(WG) coordinators and representatives appointed by the Signatories of
the MoU will be set up following the signing by the appointed numbers
of signatories to the MoU. The MC will work out its rule of operation
at its first formal meeting in accordance with existing COST regulations.
The partners will
elect a Chairperson and a Vice-Chairperson who will be responsible for
coordinating activities and ensuring that the Action direction meets the
The following three Working Groups will be formed:
Each WG will elect
a Coordinator who will assist the Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson in
ensuring that the work is of a high standard. Overseeing the activities
of each WG will be the responsibility of the MC. The Chair, Vice-Chair
and WG coordinators, together with advisers representing end users, will
form a steering committee to ensure the development of an integrated programme
across the three WGs.
structure is shown in Figure 1. An inaugural MC meeting prior to the first
Annual Workshop will elect Coordinators for the WGs.
and WG coordinators will form a steering committee to ensure collaboration
between WGs and other national and international research group. They
will meet during the annual workshops. If needed, small group meetings
will be organized.
Workshops will be organised in cooperation with allied groups such as the EU Concerted Action on Soil Conservation And Protection for Europe (SCAPE) www.scape.org, the diffuse pollution cluster SEDNET, the programme CONVOY www.conwoy.ku.dk, the European Society for Soil Conservation (ESSC) www.zalf.de/essc/essc.htm, the European Environmental Agency (EEA) www.eea.eu.int, the European Soil Alliance http://www.soil-alliance.org, Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE) www.soilerosion.net/sen/ & Land Use and Climate Change (LUCC) www.geo.ucl.ac.be/LUCC/, Landscape Tomorrow www.landscape-tomorrow.net.
A specific attention
will be to invite young researchers [PhD and Post Doc] to participate
to WGs and present their work.
A website for the Action will be set up as part of an established website dedicated to soil erosion (http://www.soilerosion.net). It will be used for communication platform for participants, act as a vehicle for publicising the aims and achievements of the Action to a wider scientific community and ensure dissemination to other groups such as policy makers and farm and land management advisers.
Fig 1: Organizational structure
The duration of the Action is planned for four years. Coordination of the Action is achieved by means of Annual Workshops. An inaugural MC meeting will take place prior to the first Annual Workshop. The MC will meet twice a year to review progress. Working groups will meet twice a year. Some meetings will be organized in cooperation with allied groups.
Fig. 2: Timetable of the Action
F. Economic Dimension
The following COST
countries have actively participated in the preparation of the Action
or otherwise indicated their interest: (1) Austria, (2) Belgium, (3) France,
(4) Germany, (5) Italy, (6) the Netherlands, (7) Norway, (8) Poland, (9)
Portugal (10) Slovakia and (11) the United Kingdom.
On the basis of national
estimates provided by the representatives of these countries, the economic
dimension of the activities to be carried out under the Action as been
estimated, in 2001 prices, at roughly Euro 17 million. The figure is based
on estimates of numbers of researchers working on soil erosion issues
in each country with a notional cost of Euro 75 000 per person-year for
a full-time research position: Austria (12 researchers), Belgium (20),
France (50), Germany (18), Italy (3), the Netherlands (9), Norway (5),
Poland (60), Portugal (6) Slovakia (20), UK (20).
This estimate of the
investment at national level is high, but probably not balanced in consideration
of the cost of the economical and environmental damage, which imply by
themselves policy decisions. This rough estimate is valid under the assumption
that all the countries mentioned above but no other countries, will participate
in the Action. Any departure from this will change the total cost accordingly.
An adding value of
the COST input will clearly devoted to the necessary linkage between important
scales for off-site effects and land decision, which requires now collaborations
between academic researchers, advisers and decision-makers.
Since the major objective
of this COST action is to improve soil conservation and reduce offsite-impacts
of soil erosion in Europe, the plan for disseminating the mutually developed
knowledge has to address all interest groups involved in land-use decision-making.
Therefore, the design of the dissemination plan has to meet three requirements:
For all user groups,
important media of information dissemination will be the internet (web-site
managed by the COST action), written publications, workshops, seminars
and think-tank events. However, the processing of information has to be
adapted to the demands of user groups.
Dissemination of results
among the scientific community will be the least difficult part, since
the participants in the COST action are themselves part of the scientific
community. Well established instruments such as scientific workshops,
conferences and seminars organised by the MC and dedicated to specific
sub-topics will be employed. Publications in dedicated high level scientific
journals will be organised as result of the workshops and conferences.
Participants of the COST action will also present their results on regular
international conferences organised by other scientific organisations.
The web-site of the COST action will serve as permanent information source
for the scientific community providing announcements for and invitations
to scientific events. In addition, wide-spread newsletters of scientific
organisations such as the European Society for Soil Conservation (ESSC),
the Land Use Land Cover Change (LUCC) group, the SCAPE EU Concerted action,
and the national soil science and geomorphology societies will be used
for information dissemination.
The technical community
and land users dealing with the direct implementation of soil conservation
measures on agricultural land are, if at all, less organised on the European
level. Language boundaries as well as different administrative and organisational
structures in the various countries require a national and sometimes regional
or even local approach of knowledge dissemination. Furthermore, soil conservation
measures have to be regionally adapted which means that the knowledge
to be disseminated differs from region to region. Demonstration workshops
with land users and technical personal from advisory organisation will
be organised to disseminate knowledge in a vivid way by means of concrete
soil conservation practices. To be most efficient, these workshops will
be of participative character, which also creates a special kind of iterative
learning and knowledge generation. Thus, the workshops will not only serve
dissemination purposes but be foremost understood as research by itself.
Since demonstration workshops are expensive to organise, they will only
be conducted in selected, most erosion sensitive regions. Representatives
from other regions will be invited to attend the workshop and transfer
the experiences in their respective regions. An additional mean of knowledge
dissemination addressing the land users and technical community will be
realised through the web-site of the COST action, where manuals of best
practices and conservation measures will be provided in several languages
and adapted to regional specific problems.
Political decision making affects land use and soil conservation on the European, national and regional level by different means including CAP and agro-environmental schemes. The improvement of soil conservation in Europe requires therefore the efficient interaction with policy makers on all geographical levels. However, many attempts have proved that confronting policy makers with scientific results is an inefficient mean of supporting decision making and improving the environmental performance of land use policies. A more efficient way would be to involve political decision makers at the very beginning of the research process in the definition of the research task. This procedure makes sure that research fills a gap which is formulated by decision makers. Research results will therefore be acknowledged by policy makers. Therefore, workshops will be organised with policy makers and administration from the start of the project to identify knowledge gaps and define research tasks. This strategy is thought to guarantee an effective knowledge transfer between both groups. Specific discussion will take place with EEA to help achieve improvement in soil protection through the provision of targeted information to policy making.