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Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land Care

Periodic Report Summary 4 - RECARE (Preventing and Remediating degradation of soils in Europe through Land Care)

Project Context and Objectives:
- more extensive version available in report uploaded under section 2 (core of the report) -

Soils are of crucial importance for the well-being of human society as they provide a wide variety of functions and ecosystem services (ES). These include food and biomass production, buffering and filtering of water and contaminants, a physical base for construction, habitat, a source of materials, and storage of nutrients and carbon. Increasingly, the crucial importance of soils for the well-being of human society is being recognised. In many parts of the world, soil is being lost faster than it forms, and its functions are being lost or diminished, which impacts ecosystem services. In Europe, a number of threats to the soil have been identified in the European Soil Thematic Strategy, these include: soil erosion, salinization, compaction, desertification, floods and landslides, loss of organic matter, contamination, sealing and loss of soil biodiversity. However, these responses are not always applied to their full potential for various, mostly socio-economic reasons, including in some cases lack of stakeholder involvement in developing responses. For most soil threats, the situation in Europe is still worsening rather than improving. For this reason, the RECARE project was initiated in 2013.

The RECARE project brought together a multidisciplinary team of 27 different organisations to identify ways of assessing the contemporary threats to soils and to find innovative solutions to prevent further soil degradation across Europe.

Aims and objectives
The overall aim of RECARE was to develop effective prevention, remediation and restoration measures against soil threats in Europe. This was further specified in a number of objectives:
1. Filling knowledge gaps in our understanding of the functioning of soil systems under the influence of climate and human activities
2. Developing a harmonised methodology to assess the state of soil degradation and conservation
3. Developing a universally applicable methodology to assess the impacts of soil degradation and management measures upon soil functions and ecosystem services
4. Selecting innovative measures in collaboration with stakeholders and evaluate the efficacy of these regarding soil functions and ecosystem services as well as costs and benefits
5. Upscaling results from 17 case studies to European scale to evaluate the effectiveness of measures across Europe
6. Evaluating ways to facilitate adoption of these measures by stakeholders
7. Carrying out an integrated assessment of existing soil related policies and strategies to identify their goals, impacts, synergies and potential inconsistencies, and to derive recommendations for improvement based on RECARE results.

Project Results:
- more extensive version available in report uploaded under section 2 (core of the report) -

Description of work performed

Providing the base for data collection and methods (WP2)
The soil threats studied in RECARE were reviewed based on literature and (geo)databases. Key soil properties were identified to
1) determine status of degradation,
2) assess effect of measures, and
3) assess how degradation and remediation measures impact ecosystem services.

A framework for soil-based ecosystem services was developed, based on a literature review, a workshop with experts and by collecting feedback at several scientific and policy meetings. The framework informed the monitoring plans for field trials, the ecosystem service assessment, the policy impact assessment, and the selection of indicators for upscaling.

Assessing state of degradation and conservation (WP3)
Existing information at Case Study level was collected and used for case study descriptions in close collaboration with the review of soil threats at EU level in WP2 and with JRC, who facilitated access to geo-datasets available at EU level.
For the assessment of the state of degradation and conservation, the WOCAT mapping questionnaire (QM) was applied.

Stakeholder participation and valuation (WP4)
A standardized procedure was applied to identify relevant stakeholders. Guidelines and fact sheets on stakeholder involvement were developed to support establishing stakeholder platforms. Stakeholder participation was continued throughout project lifetime.

Selection of measures (WP5)
The selection of measures to be test-implemented at the case study sites was realised through training workshops, designing guidelines and tools, inclusion of promising SLM measures in the WOCAT database, and selection workshops.
WOCAT QT provides information on the measures which could be used to remediate soil degradation in the case studies, QA provides insight in the enabling conditions required to implement measures.
The selection of measures in the case study sites was informed by a literature review on existing measures against soil threats applied in Europe and the world.

Testing measures (WP6)
The selected measures have been tested in field experiments.
The monitoring results have been analysed and are being published in a special issue of CATENA. In almost all cases, the measures had an impact on soil threats, which in almost 50% of cases was significant.

Costs, benefits and adoption of measures (WP7)
Three methods were developed to assess costs and benefits of the implemented measures in the case study sites: impact assessment on ecosystem services, participatory model development using Bayesian Belief Networks and process-based cost-effectiveness analysis. These methods have been used in combination to provide the fullest picture possible.

Applicability and effects of measures at European level (WP8)
A large part of the work has been devoted to developing a software environment able to run at 500 m resolution across Europe, and to adapt and enhance individual model components to allow this IAM to integrate prevention, remediation and restoration methods for various soil threats. The IAM is now being run for different countries. Work on validation and scenarios is ongoing.

Policy analysis and recommendations (WP9)
A review of EU level policy instruments with relevance for soil has been completed. Member State instruments for RECARE study countries have been identified and are the focus of the policy impact assessment at national level. A policy conference was organised in Brussels in September 2018.

Data use, management, and hosting (WP10)
A database management system for RECARE was developed, together with an online viewer. JRC has built an interactive web hosting infrastructure to host RECARE data at the end of the project.

Dissemination and communication (WP11)
Information on the project has actively been disseminated since the start of the project. The main achievements are:

• Development of the RECARE Dissemination and Communication Hub. This website is the central collection point and communication portal for RECARE.
• Case Study dissemination plans that ensure that the Case Study outputs are communicated in an appropriate way to local/national stakeholders.
• Continued awareness raising of the RECARE project through: project leaflet, newsletters, soil threat fact sheets, journal articles, conferences and dissemination events, social media – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, publications trees, films and brochure.
• Final policy conference and presentations at multiple meetings.

Potential Impact:
- more extensive version available in report uploaded under section 2 (core of the report) -

Scientific impact
RECARE improved the scientific understanding of complexity and functioning of soil systems and interaction with human activities. The main RECARE scientific innovations are related to the integrated trans-disciplinary approach for remediating soil degradation in Europe. RECARE has delivered an improved evidentiary basis for the bio-physical impact, cost-effectiveness, and socioeconomic acceptability of remediation measures. This basis has been developed, demonstrated, and validated in 17 Case Studies, with stakeholders. Integrated biophysical and socio-economic modelling has been used to evaluate the role of these measures at the European scale. Specific impacts are:
• Reviews of existing information on soil threats, including their status in Europe, indicators to assess them, interactions, impacts of soil threats on soil properties and ES, and measures against soil threats.
• Significant contribution to a world-wide database of measures to combat soil degradation resulting from different soil threats (WOCAT databases).
• A participatory method to evaluate and select measures by stakeholders, based on combining stakeholder and scientific knowledge, has been adapted to European context.
• A large number of innovative measures has been tested for all soil threats in Europe.
• A holistic methodology to assess changes in ES driven by soil management measures has been developed and tested. The ES assessment is based on measured or estimated soil property changes, and visualized for the use in stakeholder valuation workshops.
• A spatial simulation tool to assess the cost-effectiveness of prevention, remediation, and restoration measures regarding their effects on the state of degradation, soil functions, and ecosystem services was developed.
• The integrated PESERA-DESMICE-METRONAMICA model, capable to evaluate the potential applicability and effects of measures at the European level, and accounting for dynamic changes in land use and policies has been developed and applied.

Policy impact
It is expected that RECARE’s scientific results will assist appropriate design and targeting of cost-effective measures addressing soil threats within a number of policies. This support to policy design consists of scale-appropriate solutions to soil degradation problems, which are expected to restore soil functionality and ecosystem services throughout Europe. Current policies were found to have a positive but small effect on soil quality. Significantly larger effects could be obtained by adopting policies with a higher level of ambition regarding soil quality, and the environment in general. Project results support improved implementation and coherence across a number of relevant EU policies and strategies.

Socio-economic impact
For farmers, soil degradation generally results in less revenues and/or more costs. Yields might decrease through the occurrence of e.g. soil erosion, salinisation, loss of organic matter, while in the case of pollution, for example, the whole crop may be lost as it may no longer be suitable for consumption. Costs can also increase, e.g. because erosion forces farmers to re-sow, or to dredge waterways. Furthermore, costs may not only occur for farmers, but for society as a whole, e.g. because of flooding.
Measures against soil threats cost money, but RECARE has shown that they generally also bring benefits in relation to multiple ES. Cost/benefit analysis done in RECARE has revealed that some measures would actually be cost-effective both for farmers and for society in the short term. Other measures are less cost-effective, but are from a societal point of view so important that they should still be implemented.

Wider societal implications
Soil degradation affects us all, since soil plays a crucial role in the delivery of many ES, including e.g. food production, carbon sequestration, water filtering and buffering. This results in additional costs to society, and may result in the loss of crucial ES. As mentioned above, situations can occur in which soil degradation has to be remediated because of societal consequences, in which case costs for remediation might need to be borne by society as a whole. Whenever possible, soil degradation should be prevented. Not only because of its negative effects on soil functions and related ES, but also because prevention is generally much cheaper than remediation.

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