Soils, Forests, Agriculture

Soils, forests and agriculture are intrinsically intertwined, with huge impacts on each other and the environment. Soils are increasingly being considered as crucial contributors to the environment and ecosystem, with the same importance as air and water. Forests provide enormous ecosystem services including soil protection, flood mitigation, air quality, biodiversity conservation and renewable resources. Land use through agriculture and farming can have positive and negative impacts on key components of the biosphere and environment, including soil, air, water, biodiversity, CO2 and renewable energy.

The importance of these interactive areas of research is increasingly being recognised as an essential consideration within major multilateral environmental agreements. Science is moving towards more holistic and comprehensive approaches to study soils, forests and agriculture, which have such a broad and complex interactive role within the environment.

Societal impact and strategic research objectives

In the current climate, the strategic objectives of soil research are shifting towards understanding the role of soils within global climate change, and how land use changes will impact their multi-functionality.  Forestry research will focus on conservation and production, and on integrated analysis of forests and the key role they play in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. One of the strategic foci of future research into agriculture will be on understanding its pressures and impacts on the environment, what ecosystem services it provides, and alternative adaptation and mitigation strategies through different land use, policy implementation and climate scenarios. All of these strategies will seek to integrate biophysical, economic and social models.

Political and administrative frame

The new EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection has set clear goals for European Community action, including the adoption of the Soil Framework Directive, integration of soil protection into related EU legislation, increasing R&D in soil science (particularly with regard to biodiversity and climate change interaction), and increasing public awareness about the importance of soil protection for sustainable development. The current EU Forestry Strategy, the EU Forest Action Plan and the White Paper for Adaptation to Climate Change recognise the importance of forests for sustainable development in Europe. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was recently reformed in line with the Helsinki strategy to promote closer integration of environmental aspects and sustainable development into agriculture.  The CAP Health Check legislative package addresses new challenges such as climate change, renewable energies, water management and preservation of biodiversity. Other major pieces of legislation such as the Water Framework directive are directly linked to agriculture activity.

Main sub-fields and areas

  • Processes behind soil and forest functions and ecosystem services
  • Threats to forests and changes in soil processes
  • Soil and forest protection and conservation
  • Agri-environmental indicators
  • Areas with Natural Handicaps
  • Effectiveness of agri-environmental measures
  • Agricultural pressures on water
  • Landscape and services provided by ecosystems


Approach

The main methodological priorities are to develop harmonised databases and information systems for assessing the functions of and threats to forest and soil at local, national, European and global scales. This requires the development of integrated modelling approaches covering the complete Driving forces-Pressures-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) cycles for forests and soil degradation processes.

Agricultural research will focus on the impact of conservation and sustainable agriculture on the European environment.  Water use and crop growth will be modelled and studied to assess their impact on climate change, identify adaptation opportunities and assess the tradeoff between bio-fuels and food crops. Priority will be given to agricultural landscape diversity and the development of agri-environmental indicators. Integrated geo-referenced impacts of agricultural practices will be spatially modelled using biophysical and economic parameters, in order to provide the best information for improved target measures.

Projects

A list of relevant EU funded projects (FP6 and FP7) involving PEER partners:

  • Capri RD (2009-2011) (PEER partners involved: JRC - IES)
  • Geoland2 (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES)
  • CCTAME (Climate Change – Terrestrial Adaptation and Mitigation in Europe) (PEER partners involved: JRC - IES)
  • CCAT (Cross Compliance Assessment Tool) (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES)
  • GlobalSoilmap.net (PEER partners involved: JRC - IES)
  • e-SOTER (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES)
  • iSOIL (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES, UFZ)
  • DIGISOIL (PEER partners involved: JRC - IES)
  • ENVASSO (PEER partners involved: Alterra, NERI)
  • RAMSOIL (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES)
  • SoilTrEC (PEER partners involved: Alterra, JRC - IES)