Reflections on RECARE

This week is the final conference for the RECARE project (Preventing and Remediating Degradation of Soils in Europe through Land Care), which is concerned with finding practical solutions to some of the urgent problems facing Europe’s soils.

For the past five years, a CCRI team led by Jane Mills has been working on the communications for this project, as well as lending some of our knowledge as social scientists.   As someone who is new to soil science, my previous experience was with genomics; this has been an adventure as I’ve grasped the breadth of science brought together in studying the soil.  At the first project meeting I realised that I was not alone, soil scientists don’t necessarily understand each other’s science. Sometimes the specialisation needed to develop the deep expertise required in contemporary science means that people don’t get time to develop the overview that is need for policy making, and during my involvement with RECARE I have learnt a number of very broad things.

Matt Reed & Jane Mills [centre rear] working with RECARE colleagues
Problems with the soil can be an immediate threat to human well-being.  That sounds very obvious, but we have become used to the idea that environmental issues are long-term and generalised, but often soil threats are immediate and urgent.  For example, I’ve stood in a gully in Iceland where a single storm blew away the topsoil, I’ve seen the soil collecting at the bottom of a hilly orange grove in Spain – and without soil, farming or growing becomes very difficult.  I’ve stood in the shadow of an industrial chimney that has spread heavy, toxic metals, polluting not just that year’s crops but the deep structures of the soil.   Unhealthy soils threaten people’s lives in the short term, lessens our food supply, undermines ecosystems we depend on and diminishes the quality of our shared lives.

I have also learnt to be hopeful about the future of the environment.  I am hopeful because I know that there are solutions and techniques based on evidence that can be deployed to improve the situation.  This perspective is not about wishful thinking or a vague optimism but based on distributing and embedding solutions that are effective.  Through working with local people, RECARE has been able to show where the barriers to these solutions lie.  All too often it is about getting the right actions into place, which in turn is about demonstrating that positive changes can be made and will work.   Some of these actions lie in the hands of local farmers and land managers; others need the influence of regional, national and EU leaders, but there are plenty of opportunities for effective action to be taken.

This week on Thursday, (27th) in Brussels we will be presenting all of this research to an influential audience of people and organisations with the capacity to instigate change.  If you aren’t there, you can follow the day on Twitter via #RECARE2018 or read all of the project outputs on the RECARE Hub.


Examination of contaminated soil in Romania
Filming by the RECARE team in Iceland