Technical Annex

A. Background

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.

The main 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.

It is 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.

Runoff 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.

During 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, socio-economy: Cost 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. COST 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.

However, 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.

A number 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.

The number 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.
The scope of the proposed action is to foster improved management and understanding of the environmental impact of soil erosion on cropland and rangeland throughout Europe, wherever problems of erosion by water, wind, snow melt, tillage, land levelling, and shallow landsliding occur frequently. The management of environmental impacts needs a different emphasis from that in the COST 623 Action, which was primarily oriented towards scientific analysis of erosion processes. The conceptual thinking developed in COST 832 to help identify the agricultural contribution to eutrophication also provides a platform from which to identify appropriate and cost-effective eutrophication control measures.

Such 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, consultancy companies].

B. Objectives and benefits

The main 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.

To achieve 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.

The short 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.

Three 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:

(1) Provide a forum for European research efforts on policies that encourage soil protection and reduction of on- and off-site impacts of runoff and erosion.

(2) Develop tools and methods to support decision making in the sustainable management of erosion-sensitive areas at the farm level including the implementation of soil protection measures.

(3) Bring together the effects of regional policy and farm-level management, to develop an integrated understanding of on- and off-site impacts at the catchment scale.

The three 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:

WG1: Policy
WG2: Farm Scale
WG3: Catchment scale
  Soil Fertility
  Soil physical properties  
  Muddy floods
  water course sediment
  water course Phosphorus


C. Scientific programme

The scientific programme is structured according to the three working groups to be implemented:

  • WG1: Policy issues in the implementation of sustainable land use.
  • WG2: Sustainable Farm-Scale Management.
  • WG3: Catchment Integration of On- and Off-Site Effects

Working Group 1: Policy Issues in the Implementation of Sustainable Land Use

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 protection.

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 be learnt.

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 solutions.

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.

Working Group 2: Sustainable Farm Scale Management

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:

  • identify suitable indicators for assessing the sustainability of different management practices with special emphasis on runoff, soil erosion, loss of organic matter and phosphorus transport,
  • compile a catalogue of regionally adapted best management and soil conservation practices, and, where necessary, develop adequate management techniques,
  • develop tools to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of agricultural management and soil conservation practices, delivering data like gross margin and potential water erosion risk,
  • conduct an integrated analysis of available data to check interrelated effects with other economic and environmental targets at farm level.

Working Group 3: Catchment Integration of On- and Off-Site Effects

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.

Meso-catchments can 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.
Erosion has been identified as the single most important threat to soil resources in developing a strategy for Soil Protection in Europe, but several other major threats also lie within the remit of the proposed COST action because they are linked to water and sediment processes, and are most appropriately integrated at the catchment scale. These threats include decline in organic matter, diffuse soil contamination, soil compaction, decline in biodiversity, salinisation, floods and landslides. One particularly relevant threat is contamination with excess phosphorus, which is strongly bound to fine-grained sediment and contributes strongly to eutrophication of inland and estuarine waters.

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:

  • Runoff generation and accumulation for catchment areas
  • Soil erosion, transport and deposition on hillsides and downstream / off-site.
  • Transport of non-point source nutrients and pollutants associated with sediment, principally but not only phosphorus.
  • Transport of Soil Organic Matter and associated nutrients (Carbon and Nitrogen)

Ongoing research which will be assessed and synthesised include:

  • Modelling, including particular attention to up-scaling and to the representation of field to farm-scale heterogeneity at the catchment scale; adaptation of existing Models in a format usable by all range of potential users
  • Monitoring, including collation and analysis of existing data
  • Field experiments to evaluate water, sediment and nutrient/ pollutant transfers.

D. Organisation and Management

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 overall objectives.

The following three Working Groups will be formed:

  • WG1: Policy issues in the implementation of sustainable land use.
  • WG2: Sustainable Farm-Scale Management.
  • WG3: Catchment Integration of On- and Off-Site Effects.

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.

The organizational structure is shown in Figure 1. An inaugural MC meeting prior to the first Annual Workshop will elect Coordinators for the WGs.

Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson 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), the diffuse pollution cluster SEDNET, the programme CONVOY, the European Society for Soil Conservation (ESSC), the European Environmental Agency (EEA), the European Soil Alliance, Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE) & Land Use and Climate Change (LUCC), Landscape Tomorrow

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 ( 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.


Steering Committee:
Chair person
Vice- Chairperson
Working groups coordinators (2 for each WG)

End user representatives


Management Committee
(representatives appointed by the Signatories of the MoU)


Policy issues in the implementation of sustainable land use

Sustainable Farm-Scale Management

Catchment Integration of On- and Off-Site Effects

Fig 1: Organizational structure

E. Timetable

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.

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Inaugural MC Meeting
(election of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and WG leaders)


1st annual workshop
Overview available, content of the website
Exploration of participation from policy maker and administration
Planning and Start of WGs activities
MC Meeting


Analyses of modelling and monitoring existing activities
Planning demonstration workshops
Workshop with policy makers and administration
MC Meeting


Intermediate Progress Report
MC Meeting


Manuals of best practices and soil protection measures adapted to regional specific problems
2 MC Meetings


MC meeting
Concluding symposium

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.

G. Dissemination plan

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:

a) specific demands of the different user groups (scientific society, technical community, land users, policy makers);

b) regionally and culturally distinct information and communications practices

c) the geographical level of information dissemination (European, national, regional, local).

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.

Additional information