Finding and sharing solutions to protect our soils (RECARE)

Soil compaction
Soil compaction is a form of soil degradation frequently caused by the use of heavy machinery under unfavourable (i.e. wet) soil conditions. Photo: RECARE

Affected by climate change and increasing human intervention, soils are under growing threat from a wide range of processes such as soil erosion, compaction, desertification, sealing, and contamination. Soils perform important functions and services, including food production, buffering and filtering of water, nutrient and carbon storage, and others. Soils need to be adequately protected and conserved to ensure that these functions and services remain available. The RECARE project has brought together a multidisciplinary team from 27 organizations to assess current threats to soils and develop innovative solutions to prevent further soil degradation across Europe.

soil sealing
soils are under growing threat from a wide range of processes such as soil erosion, compaction, desertification, sealing, and contamination. Photo: RECARE

Participatory development and testing of soil conservation measures

Solutions for sustainable soil management can only be identified, developed, and implemented successfully if the diverse needs of all stakeholders are taken into account. CDE’s activities within the RECARE project focus on creating stakeholder platforms to promote knowledge exchange and joint learning among different actors, including practitioners and scientists. Stakeholders will be involved in project activities throughout the entire project duration, for example by means of workshops. Based on knowledge pooled in this way, CDE and its research partners are developing a universally applicable methodology for assessing and valuing both the impacts of soil degradation and the effects of sustainable soil management on soil functions and ecosystem services. This methodology will then be applied in the project’s 17 case studies.

soil functions ecosystem services
Interacting with stakeholders in a field in Valencia, Spain. Photo: Gudrun Schwilch

Impacts on soil functions and ecosystem services

Soil has many important functions: it regulates and stores water and nutrients, serves as a habitat and as a foundation to build on, produces biomass, and plays a prominent role in both natural and cultural history, to mention just a few. Based on these functions, soil provides ecosystem services, which have direct benefits and hence also a value. This value can vary greatly depending on how the soil is being used, and it is weighted differently by different users. For example, a farmer will consider soil fertility most important, whereas a municipal employee will be more interested in effective drainage and a minimal amount of soil being washed into the sewage system.

soil conservation measures
Valuing soil conservation measures in Portugal. Photo: Gudrun Schwilch

Developing a methodology for valuing ecosystem services

CDE is developing a methodology for measuring and valuing soil functions and ecosystem services. The main aim is to visualize impacts of soil degradation and effects of soil conservation measures as a basis for comparing the various conservation measures and quantifying their effectiveness. The methodology will build not only on economic and monetary valuation methods, but also on alternative methods that enable broader consideration of social and ecological criteria – for example by allowing users to express their preferences for cultural services without the need to specify their economic value. The methodology has to be simple and comprehensible enough that it can be used by a wide range of stakeholders in workshops. Local researchers will implement the methodology in the RECARE case study areas.

rill erosion
Rill erosion in the Frienisberg area. Photo: Volker Prasuhn

RECARE case studies

Soil has many important functions: it regulates and stores water and nutrients, serves as a habitat and as a foundation to build on, produces biomass, and plays a prominent role in both natural and cultural history, to mention just a few. Based on these functions, soil provides ecosystem services, which have direct benefits and hence also a value. This value can vary greatly depending on how the soil is being used, and it is weighted differently by different users. For example, a farmer will consider soil fertility most important, whereas a municipal employee will be more interested in effective drainage and a minimal amount of soil being washed into the sewage system.

Maize strip tillage
Maize strip tillage in the Frienisberg area. Strip tillage is a ploughless cultivation technique by which the soil is disturbed only in the immediate vicinity of the seed rows. The untilled strips in between stabilize the soil and provide effective protection of the soil against erosion and compaction. Photo: Volker Prasuhn

Soil erosion by water in the Frienisberg area

Frienisberg is a hilly farming area northwest of Bern, on the Swiss Plateau. Its sloping fields are frequently damaged by soil erosion following precipitation events. Even if the area’s average annual soil erosion rate of 0.75 tonnes per hectare is fairly low, soil loss measured on individual fields has reached up to 96 tonnes per year. Mapping surveys have shown that soil loss occurs mainly in winter and on fields cropped with winter wheat. But even in summer, heavy rains can lead to severe soil loss on potato, maize, and sugar beet fields. In addition to the immediate damage in the fields, soil erosion also harms the sewage system, roads, and buildings, causing high costs to society.
This is why CDE’s case study within the RECARE project focuses on soil erosion in the Frienisberg area. Solutions for sustainable soil management can only be identified, developed, and implemented successfully if the diverse needs of all stakeholders are taken into account. For this reason, the project actively involves farming families, insurance companies, municipal authorities, water scientists, agricultural extension workers, farm contractors, and research institutions.

Project results

Does use of the “Dyker” reduce soil erosion and waterlogging in conventionally farmed potato fields? A field trial in the Frienisberg area

More project results are continuously disseminated through the RECARE information hub: The RECARE project can also be followed on Twitter (@RECARE_EU) and Vimeo.

Project duration: 1 November 2013 to 31 October 2018

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The RECARE project has brought together a multidisciplinary team from 27 organizations to assess current threats to soils and develop innovative solutions to prevent further soil degradation across Europe.

More informatino about the partners: http://www.recare-hub.eu