IRISH soil is under threat, according to an innovative new map of Europe’s soil biodiversity.
While parts of Britain, northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands are under serious threat, the soils studied in north west Cork, north Kerry, Limerick, Clare and the river valleys of the south-east are also under huge stress.
Northern Ireland is at even greater risk, right up to the border, while the healthiest regions in Ireland are Donegal, Mayo, west Galway and south west Kerry.
The unique atlas was launched in Brussels by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science at a conference on Soil, Climate Change and Biodiversity.
It includes the first ever threat map for soil biodiversity covering most of the EU, built on research by an expert group established by the EU’s Joint Research Centre.
The quantity and variety of organisms in the soil are all reduced by factors such as housing, pollution, soil erosion and compaction, land use change, invasive species and the disturbing of the land’s natural habitat.
The result is that the soil is less capable of carrying out its normal activities, such as cleaning water and air.
This can dictate whether the ground is a sink (or a holder of carbon dioxide), or whether it leaches CO2, one of the greatest contributors to global warming.
“Soil is essential to the biodiversity which makes life on earth possible and keeps our economies sustainable.
“Soil degradation threatens our access to food, clean air and water as well as to many crucial raw materials. It’s a problem that must be tackled and soon,” Ms Geoghegan -Quinn said.
As well as holding twice the volume of CO2 as is contained in the atmosphere, soil is home to at least a quarter to a third of all living organisms on the planet. That said, only about 1% of its microorganisms have been identified.
Soil is known as the factory of life and its inhabitants vary from beetles and worms to bacteria.
The only vertebrate that lives permanently inthe soil is the mole, aninhabitant of every European country bar Ireland.
The atlas can be bought or downloaded from the EU bookshop on http://bookshop.europa. eu
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