Europe and Central Asia
7 Feb 2017

One Million People 4 Soil

(c) People4Soil
By Tiziano Cattaneo & Gui-Xi Young

Tiziano Cattaneo (People4Soil) and Gui Xi Young (BirdLife) explain why the EU has a duty to preserve one of Europe’s most important natural resources: soil.

Soil – it’s that thin layer of minerals, water and gases, and of living organisms and decaying organic matter, which covers much of our planet’s land surface. What a disproportionately small word for such a colossally important thing. Even the ancient Greek term ‘pedolith’ – literally ‘ground stone’ – does not do it justice. Far more accurate is the often employed analogy, ‘the skin of the Earth’. For soil is a living, breathing thing that sustains life as we know it: a medium for plant growth; a means of water storage, supply and purification; a modifier of the Earth’s atmosphere; and a habitat for organisms. It is a vital part of what scientists call ‘the critical zone’ – the part of the Earth’s surface and near-surface that sustains virtually all terrestrial life.

But it is also a limited, non-renewable and irreplaceable resource…and it needs our protection. This is why People4Soil is looking for one million European citizens to sign its European Citizens’ Initiative petition[1] asking the EU to adopt a dedicated legal framework on soil protection.


In Europe, 300 hectares of soil disappears each day – erased from existence by an impermeable layer of artificial materials such as concrete and asphalt (a process known as ‘soil sealing’). Over the course of a year, this intense land grab is equal to the area of a city the size of Berlin. Over the last fifty years, the amount of agricultural land that has been lost to human settlements and infrastructure would add up to a medium sized country such as Portugal or Hungary.

And urbanisation is not the only threat. The level of chemical contamination in soils is rising at an alarming pace. Almost half of agricultural soils are threatened by the depletion of organic matter – decomposing plant and animal residues that are absolutely vital for the movement of nutrients in the environment and surface-level water retention. Wind and rain erosion as well as advancing desertification (particularly in the Mediterranean) is making soil more and more sensitive to drought and climate change.

If left unchecked, the knock-on effects – ecological, social and economic – of continued soil destruction will be calamitous for both people and nature. Food security will be compromised, wildlife will perish and natural carbon stores, essential for mitigating climate change, will be destroyed. 

Yet despite all this, soil is not legally acknowledged in Europe as the shared heritage and strategic resource that it is, and as a result, it does not have the protection it needs.  This is precisely what the People4Soil campaign seeks to change with its European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) petition. We are calling on the EU to establish a dedicated legally binding framework to protect European soils from the threats posed by land grabs, soil degradation and contamination.

The initiative has earned the backing of over 460 credible organisations from all over Europe, including BirdLife Europe & Central Asia and several national BirdLife partners, from Belgium (Natagora) and Germany (NABU) to Spain (SEO-BirdLife) and Italy (LIPU). And the network is impressively diverse – as well as environmental NGOs, the campaign also has the endorsement of respected scientific research institutes and universities, Civil Society Organizations and farmers’ associations.

The petition was launched in October 2016 and has collected 80,000 signatures so far but People4Soil is aiming even higher – 1 million! If we hit this golden number by 2017, then the European Commission will be obliged to hold a public hearing on our proposals and consider new legislation based on them.

For many years, the EU has been the world’s beacon in environmental protection and 500 million citizens live on a healthier continent because of this. We believe that the EU should do for soil what it is already doing for air, water, nature conservation and waste reduction. After all, the European project was born, in large part, from a need to ensure food security in post-war Europe. So, if you’re an adult and an EU citizen who believes that Europe can and must be a global leader for sustainability, then speak up and sign the citizens' initiative to save our soils today.

Tiziano Cattaneo - Campaign Coordinator for People4Soil.

Gui Xi Young – Communications Officer, BirdLife Europe & Central Asia  

Join BirdLife ECA in signing the European Citizens’ Initiative on WWW.PEOPLE4SOIL.EU

[1] The ECI is the EU’s own direct democracy platform; it enables citizens to participate in the development of EU polices by petitioning the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. If, within one year, a petition receives one million signatures from European citizens from a least 7 out of the 28 Member States, the Commission is obliged to meet with the organisers and hold a public hearing on the proposals before deciding whether or not to propose new legislation on the issue.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.