New EU Horizon 2020 project focuses on European forest soils

02 Jul 2021

Bertembos Forest, Belgium. Photo: ISRIC - World Soil Information

Forests cover approximately 35 percent of Europe, provide employment for 3.5 million people, generate € 500 billion revenue annually and absorb about 10 percent of Europe's annual greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainably managing forest soils, which underpin these key forest benefits, is key to caring for these important ecosystems.

Beyond primary productivity (growth and yield), forest soils fulfill many specific functions that are often economically undervalued: water regulation, climate regulation and carbon sequestration, soil biodiversity and habitat provisioning, and nutrient cycling. Currently, there are significant knowledge gaps on forest soil processes and insufficient soil monitoring limits the European Union’s ability to maintain soil-related ecosystem services and to reach climate policy targets. A new project, HoliSoils, coordinated by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) will address these gaps.

HoliSoils (Holistic management practices, modelling and monitoring for European forest soils) is a new EU Horizon 2020 project which will provide an improved, integrated, and harmonised monitoring and modelling framework for forest soils across Europe.

“We have such wide expertise from soil scientists to mathematicians and social scientists that we can address timely and challenging global problems on sustainable soil management and mitigation of climate change,” said HoliSoils coordinator Raisa Mäkipää.

ISRIC - World Soil Information will lead the development of a database on harmonised forest soil information and supports work package leader Thuenen Institute with upscaling this information through forest soil maps on bulk density, pH, carbon and nitrogen concentrations and texture. These maps will use machine learning algorithms, similar to those in SoilGrids. All information will be made freely available through an open access platform with support from our spatial data infrastructure team.

Forest soils in Finland (left) and Sweden (right) from the ISRIC image catalogue

“Forest soils are often overlooked in surveys and research," said ISRIC External Relations Manager Andries Bosma. "When you say ‘soil management,’ people often think of agriculture first, but there are soils under many other uses and ecosystems which deserve equal attention. For ISRIC, HoliSoils an exciting and important project.”

The 4.5-year project, which kicked off in May 2021, will identify and test soil management practices aiming to mitigate climate change and sustain provision of various ecosystem services essential for human livelihoods and well-being. HoliSoils incorporates novel methodologies and expert knowledge on analytical techniques, data sharing, model development, and soil properties and biodiversity. It will develop tools for soil monitoring and for greenhouse gas (GHG) assessment in the land use, land-use change & forestry (LULUCF) sector. It will also enhance efficiency of GHG mitigation actions, and improve numerical forecasting of soil-based mitigation, adaptation, and ecosystem services.

HoliSoils is coordinated by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), and is made up of a consortium of 20 project partners, 18 from across Europe with partners from South America (Uruguay) and Asia (Japan) broadening the perspective globally. Read more about this project in our HoliSoils project description.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101000289.