A critical analysis of the effectiveness of the United Kingdom soil protection legislation from an ecosystem services perspective.
Authors: Bowden, M. and Demir, M.
Conference: Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and TechnologyAbstract:
This research seeks to critically analyse the effectiveness of the United Kingdom (UK) legal framework for protecting soil and soil ecosystem services (ES). Soil is an incredibly complex, variable and – as its formation occurs over long periods of time compared to the lifespan of humans – non-renewable natural resource. It is the natural capital that provides the flow of most terrestrial ES, which are the benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems for survival and well-being. Soil ES are also a valuable aspect of the economy as most economic activities are impossible without functional soils.
Soil degradation is one of the most serious global threats to ecosystem sustainability. Extensive soil degradation can lead to a decline in the capability of soil to provide ES along with several other negative consequences. Therefore, sustainable management of soil to increase its productivity and resistance to adverse natural and human impacts is crucial. To achieve this, the importance and value of soil and soil ES should be understood, recognised and integrated into environmental law and policy.
To understand how the concept of ES and its value can be used for more sustainable policies and decisions, several researches have been undertaken. However, soil and soil ES – especially other than the provisioning services – are mostly overlooked in ES studies. Besides, soil could not draw enough attention in the UK environmental law and policy. Indeed, soil is not regulated through a comprehensive and coherent set of rules, which is an inherent defect of the European originated soil protection laws. Even though policies coming from the European Union (EU) in areas, such as agriculture, water, waste, chemicals, and prevention of industrial pollution indirectly contribute to soil protection, the focus of these policies is not soil. Therefore, these policies cannot guarantee a satisfactory level of soil protection. Moreover, while most threats to soils are due to economic activities many of which are steered by EU sector-related policies, soil protection is subject to national law, which typically deals with one specific threat, such as contamination.
The need for a strong soil protection in the UK has been ignored by law makers for many years. Due to lack of information and incoherent administration of soil, this area of law has not seen progress as fast as air or water protection. Furthermore, the government has falsely claimed that there is a functioning soil protection framework and has argued that the subsidiarity principle requires regulation in addition to the European legislation only when needed. Additionally, that soil is subject to private ownership causes additional difficulties and implications in legislation. As seen in the EU policy, even though air and water regulations have aspects of soil protection, their focus is preventing deterioration of air and water quality, not protecting soil resources. Finally, whether soil issues emerging from land use, such as agriculture, industry, waste management and development are tackled properly is questionable.
This research aims to develop a novel understanding of soil protection through the multidisciplinary approach of ES and provide policy recommendations in light of this perception. This research focuses on a number of gaps in the literature, namely the lack of legal analysis on soil protection laws and insufficient reflection on the importance of soils and their ES.
The first chapter of this research will present a background on the topic, which will be followed by a literature review on the issues that are found in soil protection legislation, the concept of ES, the need for a new approach, how to operationalise the concept of ES, the ES approach, the classification and valuation of ES, criticism towards ES, the concept of ecosystem disservices, how these concepts are interrelated to soil and soil research. Following this, the second chapter will discuss the need for multidisciplinary research and introduce the Environmental Law Methodology. This research will use a modified version of this methodology. The third chapter of this study will demonstrate the importance of protecting soils and soil ES through studying their interactions with each other, soil functions and processes, and major soil threats. The fourth chapter will offer a brief introduction to the UK soil policy and ascertain the reasons why soils have been disregarded in the UK law and policy. In the fifth chapter, this research will critically analyse the effectiveness of soil protection legislation in the UK, including those that originated from the EU to identify their weaknesses. Using these results as a departing point, this research will make recommendations for a more robust policy, which offers soils stronger protection. To achieve this, the sixth chapter will introduce the Ecosystem Services Framework, which has been generated through an analysis of different methods of integrating the importance and value of soil and soil ES while considering legal, scientific, economic and societal pressures. The seventh chapter will conclude this study by showing how this framework can integrate the critical considerations introduced in the third chapter and respond to the challenges introduced in the fourth and fifth chapters.