An estimated 115 million hectares or 12% of Europe’s total land area are subject to water erosion, and 42 million hectares are affected by wind erosion. An estimated 45% of European soils have low organic matter content, principally in Southern Europe but also in areas of France, the UK and Germany (4). Soil degradation is already intense in parts of the Mediterranean and central-eastern Europe and, together with prolonged drought periods and fires, is already contributing to an increased risk of desertification (5).
Climatic conditions make the Mediterranean region one of the areas most severely affected by land degradation. 12 of the 27 European Union Member States declared themselves as affected countries under the 1992 United Nation Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD): in the Mediterranean: Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain and in central and eastern Europe: Hungary, Latvia, Slovak Republic, Bulgaria and Romania (1).
In addition, other physical factors, such as steep slopes and the frequency of soil types susceptible to degradation, increase the vulnerability. These factors, coupled with changes in land use, the cessation of soil erosion protection measures due to the abandonment of marginal land, and increases in the frequency and extension of forest fires, have had a strong impact on soil vulnerability. Individual storms in the region have been known to remove 100 tonnes of soil from a hectare of land, and frequently remove 20 to 40 tonnes. In the most extreme cases, soil degradation has led to desertification (2). In these sensitive areas, therefore, vulnerabilities are likely to increase due to projected climate change.
The projected decrease in summer precipitation in southern Europe, the increase in the frequency of summer droughts and the increased incidence of forest fires will probably induce greater risks of soil erosion (3). In currently affected areas, desertification is likely to become irreversible if the environment becomes drier; the pressure from human activities will increase and the soil will be further degraded.
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Portugal.
- EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- EEA (2005), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- IPCC (2007), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
- IPCC (2014)