Pan-European research team launches the new BENCHMARKS project to define and harmonise soil health monitoring approaches across Europe for a range of land-uses.
Launch of BENCHMARKS
Today the BENCHMARKS project was launched, bringing together 29 partner organisations from across Europe, The European Commission, The Joint Research Centre and representatives of the business and land management sectors, at Wageningen University. BENCHMARKS is a 5-year transdisciplinary research project focused on monitoring soil health across Europe.
Are the soils of Europe considered unhealthy?
A joint assessment undertaken by the Soil Health and Food (SH&F) mission board and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) states that 60-70% of soils in Europe are currently considered unhealthy due to e.g. pollution, excess nutrients, compaction and soil degradation (A Soil Deal for Europe, European Commission, 2022a).
What is the solution proposed for Europe?
The European Commission SH&F mission has set the goal to have 75% of European soils healthy or significantly improved by 2030, in line with a new EU law on the protection of Soil Health. The private sector too, is proposing explicit visions of sustainable food systems, such as the 1000 landscapes for 1 billion people (1000 landscapes, 2022), the 100-million farmers platform of the World Economic Forum (World Economic Forum, 2022) and the Regen10 initiative of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD, 2022).
So how does BENCHMARKS contribute to this?
Measuring the success of these public and private initiatives through the harmonised monitoring of European soils is an essential, but enormously complex task. It requires coherent yet context-specific monitoring on multiple scales, for multiple land uses, across all EU Member States. BENCHMARKS will work together with stakeholders (farmers, foresters, urban planners, value chain representatives, researchers, local governance and policy makers) from across 24 contrasting landscapes to define how to monitor soil health across Europe, while also considering the local context of land management.
The goals of the BENCHMARKS project are to:
- Provide a clear, easy-to-use tool for evaluating soil health, that is transparent, harmonized, and cost-effective.
- Define appropriate indicators that are relevant to the assessment of soil health for a range of land uses and climatic zones across Europe.
- Develop a soil health dashboard appropriate for use at a range of scales (field to European) for agricultural, forestry, and urban settings.
- Contribute to improving existing European policies and regulations related to soil health.
BENCHMARKS is a consortium of 29 partner organisations from 10 EU countries plus Norway, Switzerland and UK. These include universities, applied research institutes, small and medium enterprises and local governmental organisations. The project is coordinated by Prof. Rachel Creamer at Wageningen University.
BENCHMARKS receives €12m in funding from the European Commission, as part of the Horizon Europe Call ‘HORIZON-MISS-2021-SOIL-02-02 to ‘validate and further develop indicators for soil health and functions’.
The BENCHMARK partners are: Wageningen University (WU), Osterreichische Agentur fur Gesundheit und Ernahrungssicherheit (AGES), Climate Farmers (CF), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Commonland Foundation (Commonland) (COM), Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (UNINA), Agencia Estatal Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Ustav Vyzkumu Globalni Zmeny Av Cr VVI (Global Change Research Institute (CAS), Direção Regional de Agricultura e Pescas do Centro (DRA), Fundacio Privada Ersilia (ERSILIA), BV Exploitatie Reservegronden Flevoland (ERF), Fundacion Regeneration Academy (Regeneration Academy Foundation) (RAF), Greenback (GREEN), Grand Alfred (GRAND), Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement (INRAE), Institut National des Sciences et Industries du vivant et de l’environnement – agroparistech (AgPar) (Affiliated), Universite de Lorraine (ULo) (Affiliated) Stichting International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC), Jozef Stefan Institute (JSI), LUONNONVARAKESKUS (LUKE Natural Resources Institute Finland), Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Masarykova univerzita (MU), Universidade de Coimbra (UC), Stichting Wageningen Research (WR), Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF), Associated partners are: Conservation Education and Research Trust (Earthwatch) (EW) (UK), WCMC LBG (WCMC) (UK), Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL) (CH), Institute for Applied Plant Biology (IAP) (CH).