EJP SOIL maps European soil data

EJP SOIL has published three reports mapping the availability of soil data across 24 European countries and existing national soil monitoring networks, as well as how EU legislation on soil data is currently implemented across the countries. The reports are meant to provide a solid knowledge base for policy makers.

The quality of soil affects the crops we produce on the land, the water running through the soil before eventually ending up in rivers or in drinking glasses and soil affects the quality of air we breathe. In other words, it is extremely important for our livelihoods that our soil is healthy. However, it has been estimated that at a European level the 60-70% of the soil is in a critical condition, that is degradated.

For this reason, the European Union has started various initiatives under the EU Soil Mission to address these issues. One of them is funding for the research in soil health through EJP SOIL.

Mapping of soil data

As part of this programme, a large team of soil researchers from all around Europe have investigated and collected knowledge about soil data. Soil data contains information about type of soil, soil quality, soil use and threats to the soil etc. across the 24 countries part of the EJP SOIL. The 24 national governments of these countries – and many more local governments do have different ways of measuring and reporting on soil quality. That can make comparisons across countries or regions difficult and if data is not available it can make enforcement of appropriate policy measures difficult. For this reason, EJP SOIL ‘Deliverable 6.1 - Report on harmonized procedures for creation of databases and maps’ mapped soil data available in the 24 countries, including documenting how it is collected and stored.

Maria Fantappiè from CREA-AA Firenze, who leads  the work package 6 of EJP SOIL - Supporting harmonized soil information systems, says: “The task was to make an inventory of existing data and organizing this data so that it is findable. We also have come up with suggestions for the best strategy for new data collection, ensuring harmonization of data collection across the project countries.”

She explains that the researchers found that in some cases different methods for data collection was used making the data difficult to compare. In other cases, specific kinds of data were not collected in all countries. For example, in around half of the countries there was no data on soil pollution, compaction, water erosion, and organic matter decline.

Maria Fantappiè explains: “The mapping available soil data is very important as the first step to ensure healthy soil. This is a prerequisite for reliable and comparable data on soil health. As it is now it is very difficult to compare soil health across Europe due to differences in data collection and analytical methods adopted.

The Deliverable 6.1 report gives an overview of the soil data available in the 24 EJP SOIL countries and on available knowledge on the soil data workflow best practices - that is procedures for harmonised collecting, storing, mapping and publishing soil data, following INSPIRE technical specification.”

Mapping of legislation

The report “Deliverable 6.2-  Report on the national and EU regulations on agricultural soil data sharing and national monitoring activities” describes the EU regulatory framework and how this framework is implemented differently across the 24 EJP SOIL countries.

Maria Fantappiè explains “We have created a first overview of the legislative background for soil data sharing. We have analysed the legal rules for sharing and archiving soil data and environmental information in each country. We have looked at how the EU legislation is being applied in each country and whether the countries do live up to the EU requirements.”

She adds “We have also analysed which problems exist when it comes to data sharing. We have done this by analysing the answers to a questionnaire sent to the EJP partners”.

Based on this, the authors of the report propose a draft for a general agreement for soil data sharing among EJP SOIL partners, between EJP SOIL partners and other institutions at national level owning/holding soil data, and in relation to external EU public institutions, such as EU DGs, EEA-EIONET, and JRC-ESDAC, and the authors have elaborated two templates for agreements on soil data sharing, as practical tools to facilitate the soil data sharing.

Suggestions for methodological harmonization

Based on questionnaires with national EJP SOIL partners and other national soil stakeholders, the report “Deliverable 6.3 - Proposal of methodological development for the LUCAS programme in accordance with national monitoring programmes analyses and compares the national soil monitoring networks and the EU LUCAS (Land Use/Cover Area frame statistical Survey) soil monitoring coming  with suggestions for how to harmonize the national soil monitoring networks across Europe towards the LUCAS programme.

The authors of the report suggest following technical recommendations:

  • Compare the designs/locations of points, country by country, with LUCAS,
  • Compare national with LUCAS data, country/country,
  • When analytical methods are different, work on the development of transfer functions (on selected main parameters),
  • Compare the entire sampling/analytical protocol to develop transfer functions between national and LUCAS protocols,
  • Identify and test statistical methods to merge or combine national and LUCAS datasets taking into consideration that sampling areas, site distribution, methods are not the same,
  • Identify statistical methods to merge the results of the maps and produce a harmonized map,
  • Work on interpretation values/scoring approaches.

All those possible actions should also be discussed and developed in close connection with EU-JRC in order to provide operational results.

The purpose of these recommendations is to harmonize data collection and data processing.

“With these three reports, we hope to provide a knowledge base for policy makers at the EU level that can hopefully increase harmonization of soil data sampling, soil data processing. Harmonization of data is pivotal to making data comparable across Europe. And comparable data is a necessity for a regulatory framework that can strengthen the work on increase soil health,” explains Maria Fantappiè from CREA-AA Firenze, project leader on the EJP SOIL work package 6 and the three reports.

Just now the European Parliament is preparing a new soil health law to be presented in June 2023. Maria Fantappiè hopes that these three reports can support the legislative process.

Now Maria Fantappiè and colleagues are working on their next project, where they try to find out which indicators are most suitable when measuring soil health.

For more information: 

Maria Fantappiè from CREA-AA Firenze, work package 6 leader: maria.fantappie@crea.gov.it