EU proposes Soil Monitoring Law

EU proposes Soil Monitoring Law

By Jenny Brunton, Senior European Policy Advisor

On 5th July 2023, the EU proposed a new Soil Monitoring Law to protect and restore soils and ensure that they are used sustainably.

The EU estimates that 60-70% of soil in the EU is currently in an unhealthy state, with costs associated with soil degradation are estimated at over €50 billion per year. The new law aims to address key soil threats in the EU, such as erosion, floods and landslides, loss of soil organic matter, salinisation, contamination, compaction, sealing, as well as loss of soil biodiversity.

The new Soil Monitoring Law provides a legal framework to help achieve healthy soils by 2050. It will do so by

  • putting in place a solid and coherent monitoring framework for all soils across the EU so Member States can take measures to regenerate degraded soils
  • making sustainable soil management the norm in the EU. Member States will have to define which practices should be implemented by soil managers and which should be banned because they cause soil degradation
  • requesting Member States to identify potentially contaminated sites, investigate these sites and address unacceptable risks for human health and the environment, thereby contributing to a toxic-free environment by 2050.

The long-term objective of the Directive is to achieve healthy soils by 2050. In light of the limited knowledge about the condition of soils and about the effectiveness and costs of the measures to regenerate their health, the directive takes a staged approach.

In the first stage the focus will be on setting up the soil monitoring framework and assessing the situation of soils throughout the EU. Member States must define sustainable soil management and regeneration measures with a view to achieve healthy soils in the EU by 2050. The proposal only sets out certain principles to be respected when defining those measures at Member State level but does not define specific management practices to be applied or banned. These should be adapted at national level by the Member State, taking into consideration the specific local, climatic, and social-economic conditions, as well as land uses and soil types, and existing knowledge on what works best for their territory and their farmers. Regarding soil monitoring, Member States will need to put in place all the monitoring arrangements and carry out soil measurements. This monitoring will be done within soil districts, also to be established by the Member States.

In a second stage, and once the results of the first assessment of soils and trends analysis are available, the Commission will take stock of the progress towards the 2050 objective and the experience thereof, and will propose a review of the directive if necessary to accelerate progress towards 2050.

Sustainable Soil Management Principles

The following principles shall apply:

  • avoid leaving soil bare by establishing and maintaining vegetative soil cover, especially during environmentally sensitive periods;
  • minimise physical soil disturbance;
  • avoid inputs or release of substances into soil that may harm human health or the environment, or degrade soil health;
  • ensure that machinery use is adapted to the strength of the soil, and that the number and frequency of operations on soils are limited so that they do not compromise soil health;
  • when fertilization is applied, ensure adaptation to the needs of the plant and trees at the given location and in the given period, and to the condition of soil and prioritize circular solutions that enrich the organic content;
  • in case of irrigation, maximise efficiency of irrigation systems and irrigation management and ensure that when recycled wastewater is used, the water quality meets the requirements set out in Annex I of Regulation (EU) 2020/741 of the European Parliament and of the Council14 and when water from other sources is used, it does not degrade soil health;
  • ensure soil protection by the creation and maintenance of adequate landscape features at the landscape level;
  • use site-adapted species in the cultivation of crops, plants or trees where this can prevent soil degradation or contribute to improving soil health, also taking into consideration the adaptation to climate change;
  • ensure optimised water levels in organic soils so that the structure and composition of such soils are not negatively affected;
  • in the case of crop cultivation, ensure crop rotation and crop diversity, taking into consideration different crop families, root systems, water and nutrient needs, and integrated pest management;
  • adapt livestock movement and grazing time, taking into consideration animal types and stocking density, so that soil health is not compromised and the soil's capacity to provide forage is not reduced;
  • in case of known disproportionate loss of one or several functions that substantially reduce the soils capacity to provide ecosystem services, apply targeted measures to regenerate those soil functions.


Land take mitigation principles

Member States shall ensure that the following principles are respected in case of land take:

  • avoid or reduce as much as technically and economically possible the loss of the capacity of the soil to provide multiple ecosystem services, including food production, by:
  • reducing the area affected by the land take to the extent possible and
  • selecting areas where the loss of ecosystem services would be minimized and
  • performing the land take in a way that minimizes the negative impact on soil;
  • compensate as much as possible the loss of soil capacity to provide multiple ecosystem services
Contaminated Sites

There are an estimated 2.8 million potentially contaminated sites in the EU. To tackle this legacy from past polluting activities, the proposal requests Member States to identify all potentially contaminated sites and map them transparently in a public register, investigate these sites and address unacceptable risks for human health and the environment, thereby contributing to a toxic-free environment by 2050. The remediation shall be done in line with the ‘polluter pays' principle, so that the costs are borne by the ones responsible for the contamination.