Healthy soil and good land management in Europe has various benefits in sustaining biodiversity, mitigating climate change and providing food security but current wide-spread unsustainable farming and forestry practices are accelerating soil degradation and deterioration in water quality and quantity.
We depend on soil for our food, fiber, construction material, clean water, clean air, climate regulation, and even certain antibiotics from soil organic matter that stores and releases the nutrients that sustain life on earth. Micro-organisms in the soil provide a balanced environment where plants can grow and are protected against diseases, contribute to water purification and help remove pollution and pathogens. However, worldwide it is estimated that 70% of all agricultural area (3,500 million ha) is degraded. Agriculture in Europe contributes to 115 million ha, or 12% of total land area that is affected by water erosion and 42 million ha affected by wind erosion. The overall cost of soil degradation in the EU is estimated at €38 billion/year.
Agriculture is still a major source of pollution to European waters and it must be addressed if we are to reverse biodiversity decline, supply safe drinking water and meet the targets of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Nutrients which leak from fertilizers into fresh and coastal waters is decreasing the amount of oxygen present in those waters. This can have impacts ranging from plant and wildlife loss to devastating blooms of algae which can wipe out all life in certain aquatic areas creating so-called dead zones. Diffuse pollution is not just a problem for wildlife, it can also threaten domestic drinking water supplies, driving up costs of treatment and even causing some sources to be abandoned. Existing CAP safeguards are inadequate to protect our waters from these impacts and therefore forthcoming reforms are needed to address them.
Trees Robijns, trees.robijns(at)birdlife.org