As the living interface between vegetation cover and geological subsurface, soil forms the skin of our planet. The solid rock envelope, the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the hydrosphere overlap in soils. Compared to the skin of the human body, this soil layer is many times thinner and extremely vulnerable.
Soil is a limited resource and not renewable within the timespan of a few human generations. Soil provides numerous ecosystem services which are essential for human life, and it forms the basis for a wide range of human activities. Despite its enormous importance for plant, animal, and human life, soil is a medium which has received far too little attention; for example, the immense abundance of soil life is still largely unexplored. A handful of vital soil contains more living organisms than there are humans living on earth.
The conservation of soils is therefore of utmost importance! This is especially true for mountainous regions such as the Alpine area, where soils are much more vulnerable and endangered due to the region’s steep reliefs, shallow soils, and longer formation times. Another challenge for soil in Alpine areas is climate change, which is progressing more rapidly in mountainous areas and is much more noticeable than in other regions.
Healthy soils are key to mitigating and adapting to climate change, to preserving biodiversity, and to achieving food security. However, vast quantities of healthy soils are lost every day. This loss is largely caused by human soil consumption. This is especially crucial in the Alps, where the availability of soil is particularly limited.
Soil fertility and avoiding degradation are basic preconditions for a high quality of life.
The Contracting Parties of the Alpine Convention have committed to “reducing quantitative and qualitative soil damage, in particular by applying agricultural and forestry methods which do not harm the soil, through minimum interference with soil and land, control of erosion and the restriction of soil sealing” (Framework Convention Art. 2, 2d). Furthermore, the XV Alpine Conference welcomed the declaration “Sustainable Land Use and Soil Protection – Joining Forces for Nature, People and the Economy”, which was developed by the EUSALP Action group 6, which is led by the Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention and the Province of Carinthia.
Since results in the field of soil protection require perseverance and continuous efforts, long-term strategies for relevant cooperation partners are necessary. Successful first steps are important and long-term approaches are required for core aspects of soil protection. A structured approach is needed for the comprehensive and, above all, sustainable integration of soil protection into all affected thematic areas. Thus, the “Long-Term Action Plan for the implementation of provisions and declarations on soil protection in the specific context of the Alpine region” was adopted by the XVII Alpine Conference in October 2022.
Protocols and Declarations
Thematic Working Bodies
EUSALP Action Group 6 on the “Preservation and valorisation of natural resources, including water and cultural resources”, which is led by the Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention and the Province of Carinthia also deals with the topic of soil.
Selected Documents and Publications
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (German and Slovenian versions co-published by the FAO and the Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention)
Soil Declaration “Sustainable Land Use and Soil Protection – Joining Forces for Nature, People and the Economy”; elaborated by EUSALP Action Group 6(2018)