Brussels, Belgium: The European Commission’s own research body, the Joint Research Centre, for the first time, published an indicator-based map of potential threats to soil biodiversity, in order to guide decision-makers in protecting this crucial resource.
The atlas highlights areas within Europe where soil biodiversity has maximum risk of decline relative to the current situation – notably parts of the UK, the Benelux countries and Northern France, although there are areas of high risk also in several other Member States. It provides a comprehensive source of information for researchers, policy makers and teachers. The atlas will be launched at the conference ‘Soil, Climate Change and Biodiversity – Where do we stand?’ in Brussels, during September 23 – 24, 2010.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, and Janez Potočnik, Commissioner for Environment, said, “Soil degradation threatens our access to food, clean air and water, as well as to many crucial raw materials. This atlas is a major European contribution to the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity 2010. It will raise awareness about the need for the Soil Framework Directive, the commission first proposed in 2006 and help prevent further soil degradation and repair the damage already done. Unless we tackle this problem soon and in a coordinated manner, it will cost a lot more to put it right.”
The European Atlas of Soil Biodiversity includes the first ever threat map for soil biodiversity covering most EU Member States1. Potential threats to soil biodiversity were selected and ranked in an expert evaluation organised by the Soil Biodiversity Working Group, established by the JRC. Multiple pressure factors were included in the calculation of the new indicator map of potential threats, including land use change, habitat disruption, intensive human exploitation, invasive species, soil compaction, erosion and pollution.
The map indicates an evaluation of the potential risk of soil biodiversity decline – with respect to the current situation – and is not a representation of the actual level of soil biodiversity. The results show that the risk of decline in soil biodiversity due to human induced pressures tends to be highest in areas of high population density and/or intense agricultural activity. The regions most affected are particularly concentrated in the UK (several parts except the most northern), the Benelux countries and Northern France. However, specific areas in several other Member States, often with the same characteristics are also identified as high risk – for example the Po valley in Italy, the only region in that country to fall into the high risk categories.
The JRC’s atlas also introduced the reader to “life below ground”. It brings to the public view the whole range of life in the soil and the crucial role it plays in maintaining other ecosystems. It includes new research results on current threats to soil biodiversity.
This 128-page atlas is the result of collaboration between departments of the European Commission and partners from academia, industry and organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).