Our soil performs a whole number of important economic, social and ecological functions, known as ecosystem services: food and biomass production, source of raw materials, water management, habitat for animals and plants, etc. When soil is able to fulfil all these ecosystem services, we can speak of a healthy soil.
Healthy soil also plays an important role in the circular economy, because to keep our soil healthy, we need to use it sustainably. This is extremely important in the context of construction and infrastructure projects, for example, and cannot be done without good cooperation between the various actors involved. They must at all times be aware of the impact of their activities on the ultimate quality of the soil.
With the project Building on/to Healthy Soil, Immoterrae went looking for the main threats to soil as a result of construction and infrastructure works. We also want to make the various stakeholders aware of the importance of healthy soil and offer concrete solutions for integrating soil care into the execution of earthworks.
We believe that through a multidisciplinary approach, each link in the chain can make its valuable contribution and we can prevent the various (sub)contractors from working against each other. This allows clients to include concrete measures in the specifications as early as the design phase. It is also important to involvethe 'recipients' of the surplus land more closely, and not just to focus on the site where the land is released.
By means of various awareness-raising sheets with concise information on the importance and benefits of soil care, we want to make stakeholders aware of the issues, motivate them to take action and then guide them to the right and more detailed information.
We created factsheets with more detailed information on specific themes within soil care, such as 'Japanese knotweed and soil movement' (to avoid further spreading), 'soil compaction' (about the negative impact and possible preventive measures), etc.
We created guides tailored to specific target groups within the sector, paying due attention to soil protection principles, such as the "guide for building owners".
Via a webinar, we brought together various stakeholders concerned with the theme. This initiative was very much appreciated by the sector and provided us with a lot of positive feedback and demand for more.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
This project shows that soil care is a complex subject with which various stakeholders in the sector are not very familiar. In the years to come, it will be important to divide this theme into various sub-aspects and to convert it into manageable information for the target audience.
If we want to anchor the theme of soil protection in the working processes of contractors, then specifications will have to contain clear criteria and guidelines on this subject. Public commissioning authorities can set an example here, supported by good policy.
Soil care requires a broader view of soil materials. The technical report is a useful tool for gathering more extensive information on various application possibilities. Soilmanagement organisations have an important role to play in collecting this data.
Buyers, too, must clearly indicate what properties the soil material must satisfy. The challenge here will be to get the supply and demand sides to match.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
With more than 180 participants, the webinar in November 2020 was certainly not the end of the story. Many participants are currently working on a number of action points to further put the results of the project into practice, such as organising trainingcourses or writing type posts on soil care.