More vigorous soil policy needed

The health of rural soils in the Netherlands is in jeopardy, but current soil policy provides an inadequate response. Objectives for nature, water and climate are not being met and agricultural yields are under threat. The government must do more to ensure soils are suitable for multiple uses, but also that activities take place where the soil is able to support them. Amendments to the legislation will be needed. These are the conclusions of the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure’s advisory report Soils for sustainability, which was presented to Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality on 29 june 2020. With this advice the Council aims to move soil policy higher up the political agenda.

Intensive use and hazardous substances are jeopardising the health of rural soils in the Netherlands. Soils suffer from acidification, eutrophication, compaction, desiccation and a heightened vulnerability. As a result, internationally agreed objectives for improving soils, nature, water and the climate are not being met.
Many land uses are dependent on the health of rural soils. Soils are vital for agriculture, forestry and nature, but are also responsible for water quality and for water and carbon storage. The declining quality of soils is leading to lower agricultural yields and a loss of ecological quality. Water quality also fails to meet the required standards, soils retain too little water and greenhouse gas emissions from soils are too high. The need for healthier soils is made even more urgent by climate change. Soil organic matter is decomposing more quickly, while the changing climate and resulting extreme weather conditions mean that we need soils that are better able to store water and carbon.

Six recommendations

The Council recommends the Dutch government to encourage multifunctional use of soils, for example by combining land uses, such as farming with carbon storage and forestry with water storage. The Council also feels that the government should enshrine the principle of function follows soil in the National Environment and Planning Strategy. This means that the health of the soil determines what uses can be made of the land. The responsibility for putting this principle into practice is a task for the provincial governments.
The Council advises setting up a monitoring and knowledge system for collecting and sharing more information on soil quality. The Council also sees possibilities for the government to use legislation and regulatory instruments to improve the health of soils. Appropriate amendments can be made to agricultural tenancy, fertiliser and fiscal policies. Moreover, landowners and land users should be rewarded for soil friendly practices, for example via the common agricultural policy or regional branding. Finally, the Council advises the government to encourage ecological restoration in forests and nature conservation areas, for example by providing grant aid.

Note to the editor/not for publication

If you would like more information about this advisory report, please contact Nicole van Buren, project lead, at, tel. +31 (0)6 1017 2005.
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