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Soil is a non-renewable natural resource, as its formation and restoration takes tens of millennia. The provision of ecosystem services makes soil vital for people and the environment. The role of soil in terrestrial ecosystems is significantly greater than has been recognised so far, so soil needs to be protected and, above all, managed sustainably in such a way as to preserve its diversity, quality and ability to provide ecosystem services.

Soil is part of the Earth’s crust between the surface and the bedrock that is composed of minerals and organic matter, water, air and living organisms. Various soil types (soil units) with different physical and chemical properties are formed because of the difference in bedrock and pedogenetic processes.  Soil provides various ecosystem services that benefit plants, animals and human beings. It provides living space for people and other organisms, is the basis for food, biomass and raw material supply, shapes the landscape, is a source of genetic diversity and biodiversity, is an archive of heritage, and is a key element in processes of water retention and filtration, atmospheric carbon fixation, and organic matter circulation. Soil is compromised by a number of degradation processes, both natural (e.g. moderate soil erosion due to water or wind) and human-induced (e.g. soil pollution, soil sealing – covering the ground with impervious materials – and loss of soil organic matter). Degradation processes reduce food security and cause a loss of biodiversity, which has an adverse effect on the economy and the development potential of society as a whole.

Soil conservation is vitally important

The umbrella legislation on soil protection and management in the European Union is still being harmonised, so it is up to the Member States to regulate this area. In Slovenia, soil is protected by environmental legislation (quality standards for hazardous substances in the soil, waste and prevention of industrial pollution), partly by legislation on water management, spatial planning and agriculture, and partly by EU legislation. The 2006 Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection proposes ensuring sustainable use of soil, protecting its functions, preventing further soil degradation and ensuring the restoration of degraded soils. The area is also partly covered in the seventh Union Environment Action Programme to 2020, "Living well, within the limits of our planet", which highlights the importance of healthy soils for human well-being and economic performance and treats measures to reduce human pressure on land, soil and other ecosystems in Europe as a priority objective. The EU Biodiversity Strategy by 2030 focuses on the conservation and enhancement of ecosystems and their services by establishing green infrastructure. The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe is committed to preventing soil degradation due to erosion and to maintaining and increasing organic matter levels in soil. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on combating desertification and the restoration of degraded land and soil. The Alpine Convention and the Soil Conservation Protocol adopted within the framework of said convention set objectives for soil conservation and its natural functions. In recent years, soil protection and sustainable soil management have also played an important role in the Global Soil Partnership and the European Soil Partnership of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Slovenian Soil Partnership was established in 2017. It is a voluntary association of organisations and individuals from Slovenia who wish to contribute to sustainable soil management and soil protection. The aims of Slovenian Soil Partnership are to establish a platform for transferring acquired knowledge and information on soil and to providing information on existing and emerging legal and strategic documents on soil protection and sustainable use at national and international levels and the obligations arising from these documents.

Monitoring and remediation

Soil pollution studies in Slovenia show that, with the exception of particular areas, soil in Slovenia is largely unpolluted. Soil is heavily loaded with pollutants in the Upper Meža Valley, the Celje Basin, and the towns of Jesenice and Idrija, with cadmium and lead being the most problematic for human health and the environment. The pollution of soil with organic pollutants is a less pressing issue in Slovenia.

In the Meža Valley, soil remediation measures are being implemented and the efficiency of these measures is being checked through soil pollution monitoring in remediated sites and indirectly through monitoring of children’s blood lead levels. Activities involving the remediation of playgrounds in Celje kindergartens are also underway.

In addition to pollution, soil in certain areas of Slovenia is exposed to water and wind erosion and to sealing with impervious materials (such as asphalt and concrete) and soil consolidation or compaction. Soil sealing (covering the ground with impervious materials) causes permanent loss of soil as a natural resource and the consequent loss of ecosystem services provided by soil.