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Soil Sustainable Management in a Mediterranean River basin based on the European Soil Thematic Strategy (Soil Sustainability(So.S))
Start date: Jan 1, 2009, End date: Jun 30, 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Soil is a fundamental element of the environment, performing vital ecological, social and economic services for European citizens. It filters and buffers contaminants, allowing us to have clean drinking water, wide biodiversity, a source of raw materials, a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide and an archive of our cultural heritage. The importance of these functions is now recognised as equal to those that have traditionally been attributed to soils – i.e. the production of food, fibre and wood (agriculture and forestry) and a surface for housing and infrastructure development. Nevertheless, soil is subject to serious degradation. The EU soil protection strategy builds upon the recognition that degradation threatens many important soil functions. The major threats identified so far are soil erosion, a decline in inorganic matter content, loss of soil biodiversity, soil contamination, salinisation, soil compaction, soil sealing and major hydro-geological risks (floods and landslides). Although these problems have been identified across Europe, a distinguishable soil framework has not been established for confronting them in an integrated management way. Objectives Following the EU’s Soil strategy, the Soil Sustainability (SoS) project would promote sustainable soil management in Greece at basin level. It foresaw the drawing up of a Soil Action Plan using innovative management tools and the implementation of pilot projects. The project aimed to target improvements in soil management, the quality of the environment, safety of citizens and economic activities, human health, competitiveness and quality of products at the local and European levels. It would demonstrate sustainable soil management in the Anthemountas river basin, which covers 320 km² in the Central Macedonian region of Greece. Through the exploitation of environmentally friendly soil management methods, the project would show that both environmental and economic benefits can be reached. The beneficiary would work with local authorities and scientists to develop their capacity and skills in soil management based on European methodologies and know-how in soil management. By providing decision support tools for effective soil management to policymakers and scientists, the project aimed to support sustainable development of the local economy and protect the environment, thus contributing to implementation of the EU soil thematic strategy. Specific targets would be to confront soil degradation of agricultural lands, combat soil erosion of sub-mountainous and mountainous areas, and prevent and control soil contamination and sealing in areas subject to intensive spatial planning. An integrated methodology would be developed for the registration, assessment, remediation and monitoring of contaminated lands. The SoS project will also promote awareness on soil value and degradation threats among the local society and key stakeholders and the need for sustainable action. Results The Soil Sustainability (So.S) project developed tools to estimate and/or measure the risk of soil erosion, organic matter decline, salinisation, contamination and sealing in the project area and proposed actions to mitigate or prevent each and all of these risks. The development tools led to the drawing up of the Soil Action Plan, which outlines an integrated strategy for the sustainable management of the project area’s soil resources in accordance with the European Soil Thematic Strategy. The Municipal Councils of the relevant Municipalities and the Management Boards of local farmer cooperatives approved the Soil Action Plan and committed in writing to implementing it. This enhances the probability of the plan's application and the achievement of the expected environmental benefits. This result demonstrated for the first time in Greece the implementation of the European Soil Thematic Strategy and to the formulation of concrete policy proposals for sustainable soil management in the Anthemountas river basin, the wider Central Macedonia area and Greece in general. The project's dissemination, awareness raising and training activities, which targeted all relevant stakeholders (public authorities, farmers, agronomists, scientists, students, general public), spread both general and specific knowledge about the soil, the threats that it faces and the need to protect it. The project also developed decision-support tools for identifying and combatting the risks of soil erosion, organic matter decline, salinisation, contamination and sealing. It utilised these tools to: Assess the soil erosion risk and identify the areas within the Anthemountas river basin that face a high or very high erosion risk and risk zones where soil erosion mitigation measures must be implemented imminently; Assess the soil erosion, organic matter content and salinisation in the pilot area's agricultural land and identify areas with significant erosion risk, decrease in the soil organic matter and/or increase in salinization; Identify and rank potentially contaminated sites in the Thermi Municipality; Assess the degree of soil sealing the Municipality of Thermi. For each of the identified threats the project proposed measures to combat and/or prevent them. Finally, a comprehensive soil map was produced, the first such extensive soil map in Greece, that will be a valuable resource for agricultural practices in the area. Four thematic guides were also produced and distributed. They focused on organic matter reduction; salinisation, acidification, and erosion of agricultural soil; the protection of soil from soil sealing; soil erosion mitigation; and soil contamination) They were made available for distribution after the project's end date for further dissemination of the results and relevant training activities. Furthermore, a well designed and clever educational programme for nurseries and primary schools was developed and implemented. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).

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