The Links4Soils project officially started last week with a public kick-off conference in Ljubljana, hosted by the lead partner, the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia. About 50 participants joined the kick-off conference to discuss the approaches of the Links4Soils project. The Links4Soils project partners benefited from the experiences of the participating representatives of regional governments, sectoral agencies, municipalities and universities that also take part in the project as project observers or Alpine soil stakeholders.

 

Alpine Soil Platform

The long-lasting output of the Links4Soils Interreg-Alpine Space project is the Alpine Soil Information and Decision Support Platform: www.alpinesoils.eu. On this interactive web portal, the Links4Soils project results are presented. It will be the crossroad for Alpine Soil Information. The Platform is intended to be the meeting point for people who are involved in soil data acquisition or are current or future users of soil information. They are officially organised in the Alpine Soil Partnership, a main pillar of the Links4Soils project. Stakeholders like soil experts and their organisations, local, national and regional decision makers and people involved in education and nature protecting are invited to visit the platform to:

  • Benefit from the Links4Soils project outputs and collect project updates
  • Get the information on soil data accessibility and download available soil data and information from different sources
  • Take part in the Alpine Soil Partnership
  • Find contact information of Alpine soil experts and learn ‘who is who’ in Alpine soil protection and management
  • Get assistance and expertise on soil management
  • Review sustainable soil management guidelines and best practices for the protection of Alpine soils

In the formation of the platform, the specific functioning and needs of the different sectors like agriculture, forestry, tourism, water management, spatial planning and nature conservation are taken into consideration.

 

Alpine Soil Partnership

The central output of the Links4Soils project is the establishment of an Alpine Soil Partnership: In the course of the project, relevant stakeholders dealing with soil in the Alpine area will be included in project meetings to enhance the impact of the project. This will lead to a long-term partnership of soil experts and public authorities on the local, regional and national level. Moreover, NGOs and international organisations will be invited to participate in the meetings to develop a common understanding and a memorandum of understanding for the cooperation. The aim of the Alpine Soil Partnership is an enhanced transnational cooperation to improve the protection, the conservation and the ecological connectivity of Alpine space ecosystems.

The Alpine Soil Partnership will be embedded as a subgroup of the Global Soil Partnership of the FAO and work hand in hand with existing organisations dealing with soils in the Alpine region (e.g. ELSA, EUSALP and the Alpine Convention).

 

Building on the Experience of Project Observers and Stakeholders

The Alpine Soil Partnership will build on and work closely together with existing soil networks and platforms. Representatives of these networks play an important role as observers in the Links4Soils project and provided inputs on the existing partnerships at the kick-off meeting.

Primo┼ż Skrt, the representative of the Alpine Space funding programme, emphasised the need of Alpine Space projects to develop applicable and long-lasting outputs and expressed the willingness of the Joint secretariat representatives to support synergistic cooperation between Alpine Space projects.

Dr Wolfger Mayrhofer of the Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention highlighted the importance of international law to promote soil protection. One of the Alpine convention expectation for Links4Soils is the strengthening of the Soil Conservation Protocol that was formulated in 1998 as one of eight thematic protocols to implement the framework of the Alpine Convention.

DI Christian Steiner is a representative of the office of the regional government of Lower Austria and chairman of the European Land and Soil Alliance (ELSA). The ELSA is an alliance of European cities and municipalities that are committed to a sustainable soil management. He is furthermore involved in the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) Action Group 6. The EUSALP was formulated in 2014 to improve the development of the macro-region and to initiate solution-oriented governance structures and cooperation for selected topics. The Action Group 6 aims to preserve and valorise natural resources, including water and cultural resources, especially in the sectors spatial planning, agriculture and water management. He stressed the importance of cooperation for soil protection. He laid his anticipation to Alpine Soil Partnership as strengthening factor for ELSA network and Links4Soils outputs as practical measures municipalities may apply for sustainable soil management.

 

Ecosystem Services of Soil

The second part of the kick-off conference was dedicated to a hands-on experience on soils. For this reason, the participants joined an excursion to agricultural and woodland to discuss soil functions in sectoral approaches under the supervision of international soil experts.

This excursion served as stage for developing a common language on the topic of soils. Links4Soils tries to develop a consistent concept of ecosystem services of soils, i.e. the services soils perform for our society. Main ecosystem services that were discussed in the excursion are

  • production of food, fibre and fuel
  • water cycling and filtering
  • protection from natural hazards and erosion
  • biodiversity by providing a habitat for flora and fauna
  • carbon sequestration and climate regulation
  • recreational effect and landscape aesthetics

The soil is a non-renewable resource, but the properties of soils can be influenced by the land use. Soil fertility and the biodiversity in and on soils depend among others on the soil organic carbon content, the pH-value and the density of soils. Links4Soils is the attempt to enhance the ecosystem services soils provide by adapting the land use practices. Soils are generally neglected in agriculture, forestry, protection from natural hazards and spatial planning. Therefore, Links4Soils will develop sustainable soil management plans in pilot regions and municipalities that will be generalised and published on the Alpine Soil Platform.

 

What is Sustainable Soil Management?

The following dialogue on soil management summarises the Links4Soils project.

Scientist: Maps and big books on soils were made in the first half of the 20th century. A lot of work was done by pedologists to gather data on soils and represent them in form of maps. But nobody kept the information alive or made them alive. Sometimes the soil data is not updated. These days, information that is not digital does not exist. So in the course of the last decades, soil knowledge got lost somehow. It is our fault – the fault of pedologists – that we did not think of transforming them so that practitioners can use them in their daily work.

Practitioner: It is also the responsibility of practitioners. We did not ask for processed data that is useful in our sector – be it agriculture, forestry or spatial planning.

Scientist: Maps present very generalised information that cannot always be used in micro-locations. Especially in the Alpine area the relief leads to very diverse climatic and geomorphological conditions leading to a mosaic of very different soil characteristics on a small scale.

Practitioner: We are aware of that. Maps are only one source of information. We need to know on site which practices are in accordance with a sustainable soil management. A practical example: our foresters have to grant permission to a logging with machinery or refuse it. We need simple criteria for forestry to make this decision in consideration of soils. Ideally, the soil information is transformed into management plans that are adapted to local conditions and are the basis for well-founded practices.

Scientist: Naturally, these management plans need solid scientific ground to get societal and political support in order to be used and not forgotten on a long term. That’s why we have to develop them together – in the dialogue of scientists and practitioners.

Fruitful discussions within the project consortium at the kick-off meeting already showed diverse understanding of the soil but also the potential for good trans-sectoral and trans-national cooperation. The challenges of the Links4Soils project are

  • Linking scientists and practitioners.
  • Linking the knowledge of generalists and specialists
  • Linking soil-relevant sectors i.e. environment, natural hazards, agriculture and forestry
  • Linking local practices and macro-regional strategies on soil
  • Linking traditional knowledge and innovative solutions for soil management

The purpose of Links4Soils is to bridge these different understandings and establish links to develop a common approach towards a sustainable soil management.