Inventory of evaluation frameworks for soil quality and ecosystem services in use in Europe.

SIREN has identified and reviewed national approaches to use soil data in the assessment of ecosystem services, and the underlying frameworks and methodology to link such data to service provision by logic chains from soil properties and soil processes via soil functions to ecosystem services and benefits to society.

The SIREN framework integrates ecological (left, green) and socio-economic (right, yellow) systems, providing a comprehensively structured approach for evaluation and decision-making in policy and management regarding soil quality and ecosystem services. The square boxes in the framework are measurable/quantifiable, the rounded boxes are mechanistic forces from policy, management, market chains or natural drivers.

The indicators used for soil quality state and functions plus their reference values have been reviewed and assessed for application in harmonised pan-European monitoring of the state of the environment on the basis of scientific soundness and widespread application, policy relevancy and international stakeholder interests. Furthermore, SIREN has identified whether the concept of ecosystem services has been implemented in national soil policy, and what immediate have been implemented in national soil policy, and what immediate challenges remain to facilitate further development and transfer of scientific knowledge and implementation in integrated policy.

The SIREN project has been carried out as a priority in the EJP SOIL Roadmap to establish an inventory of evaluation frameworks for ecosystem services and soil quality in use in Europe, and of the associated knowledge and development needs. The project also was aimed to take stock of desirable values and associated target values of soil quality indicators and identification of the knowledge needs in the context of pedoclimatic conditions and agricultural practices. 

Soils are rapidly becoming a focal point for integrated environmental policy. The renewed EU Soil Strategy is anchored in the EU's 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, in the Climate Adaptation Strategy and in the EU Action Plan, and envisages that by 2050 all soil ecosystems in the EU will be in a healthy state and be protected. It rests on three pillars of the Green Deal: climate, biodiversity and circular economy. The Commission has therefore launched the coordination of soil policy as the fourth pillar to achieve healthy terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems through better soil and water management, including across borders. Part of this soil policy involves the objective that 70% of soils in Europe will be under sustainable management by 2030, which will need to be evaluated on the basis of nationally established monitoring systems for soil health.

Because soils are now recognised as a crucial environmental compartment in the pursuit of a range of very ambitious policy objectives, the European understanding of concept of soil quality is currently evolving from the more traditional foci on soil fertility and prevention and remediation of soil contamination towards a broader inclusion of soil functions and ecosystem services, both in view of combatting soil threats and in promoting sustainable land management. National soil monitoring schemes and evaluation criteria will need inclusive development along this course, not only to facilitate future policy evaluation, but also to support the development of innovative management practices and to inform governance regarding economic incentives for sustainable land use. 

Stocktaking of soil data use and evaluation in ecosystem services assessment

The use of soil quality indicator (SQI) monitoring data to assess soil functions and ecosystem services (ES) is not widely distributed across the participating EJP SOIL member states (MS). Those countries who do use Soil Quality indicator data generally use ES classification based on CICES, or a modification thereof. The largest commonality in SQIs implemented between MS is for parameters to quantify soil organic carbon (stocks and changes). A clear omission for most MS relates to soil biological parameters, addressing soil biodiversity or both with respect to structural aspects (species richness, etc.), and functional aspects (associated with soil functions and provision of ES). SQIs for water regulation and organic contaminants are also implemented by few MS. 

The ES concept has been incorporated in policy by few member states. The challenges that hinder policy implementation are diverse and highly variable among MS. Top common priorities are the development and enforcement of national soil monitoring program in MS where such program does
not exist or are deemed insufficient for ES assessment, the development of national ES assessment using SQI data, and the identification of references and target values to interpret ES assessments. 

National evaluation criteria for soil quality indicators such as references and target values have been implemented scarcely, and primarily concern soil contaminants and nutrient contents in association to allowable fertilisation quota, and are focussed on agricultural production and human health rather than other ES. 

In terms of governance, a limited structuring and coordination of soil monitoring between government bodies and academia is hampering integrated and effective data acquisition and assessment. Capacity building and financial resourcing was also considered limited by many Partners. 

Framework linking Soil Quality and Ecosystem Services

Terminology and definitions are different, and misunderstanding, miscommunication and segregation by schools of thought have slowed down cooperative development between the science realms of ‘soil quality’ (originally natural sciences) and that of ‘ecosystem services’ (originally socioand environmental economics). Based on review of scientific literature and feedback from consortium Partners’ on an earlier draft, SIREN has collated a conceptual framework linking soil quality to ecosystem services, featuring a consistent glossary of key terminology from environmental and socio-economic sciences.

A general need for development towards policy implementation of the soil health and ecosystem approaches will require further integration of environmental policies, with consolidation of common concepts and frameworks, and harmonisation and synchronisation of monitoring in time and space, and between governance levels.

Towards harmonised pan-European SQ monitoring

The inventory amongst EJP SOIL member states suggested that there is substantial support for harmonisation of SQ monitoring in Europe. However, some member states plead for simple, low-cost and replicable soil indicators, whereas others support the use of complex and integrated indicators. A possibility for differentiation of evaluation criteria by regional context was also a strongly expressed condition, reflecting that soils, climate and agricultural systems can differ significantly between countries and SQ assessment would therefore require references and target values for SQIs
tailored at a national or EU region level.

Need for stakeholder participation in the development of national monitoring schemes

Given the large heterogeneity in specific land use and management next to climatic and edaphic conditions, as well as substantial differences in political and social conditions among European countries, it is necessary to include and engage local and regional stakeholders in the development of national monitoring schemes. Local and regional stakeholders can help identifying the issues they face in their home regions, and they can contribute to a multi-actor approach to the implementation of sustainable land management practices by participatory planning and decision-making at the national and lower scales of governance. There is need for dialogue and co-construction between research and practice. Some countries have already acknowledged this and are engaged accordingly.

Read and learn more: Visit the SIREN project webpage, click here.

Click here for recording of the SIREN webinar

For further information:

Project coordinator: Dr. Jack Faber (

Project communication representative: Astrid Taylor (