Chemical and physical impacts on soil are either irreversible or can only be reversed at a very high cost. Therefore, the precautionary principle has absolute priority in soil protection.
Soil has been protected by legislation in Switzerland only since 1983, when the Environment Protection Act (EPA) was passed. The EPA and the Soil Pollution Ordinance (SoilPO) are the legal basis for soil protection in Switzerland. The federal government strives to improve soil protection on various levels. However, there has been limited success to date because at the cantonal and communal levels financial and human resources are still very scarce.
The sector of spatial planning is responsible for the quantitative protection of soils. The partial revision of the Spatial Planning Act, which entered into force on 1 May 2014, is intended to reduce land consumption: construction zones that are too large are to be downsized and existing building land reserves should be better utilized. The measures laid down in the legislation regarding agriculture, forest, environment and spatial planning must be well coordinated.
The federal government has declared greater public awareness of soil protection issues as one of its objectives. People only value and protect what they know, which is why it is also extremely important to collect information about soil and survey soil characteristics, in addition to raising awareness.
Instruments and precautionary measures
Together with the construction, agriculture and forestry sectors, the federal government and cantons have developed a series of instruments and taken precautionary measures. These include, for instance, the training of building consultants, who advise construction companies on large-scale projects.
Soil protection on construction sites
Authorities have required a soil science consultant on large construction sites for more than 15 years. Qualified experts are responsible for advising and assisting with soil protection measures. In smaller construction projects, soil protection consulting and measures often become the responsibility of project planning and management professionals, who are not always very aware of the importance of soil.
Soil protection in agriculture
Soil is the basis of production for agriculture and forestry. To protect it, the FOEN and the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) published the soil protection module of the guidelines for environmental protection in agriculture.
Soil protection in forest
Due to increasing economic pressure on wood production, higher performance, heavier machines are used in forests that increase the risk of soil damage in forests due to compaction. A publication discussing efforts to protect soil mainly from compaction and erosion was created as part of the "Physical Soil Protection in Forests" project, which is carried out by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and partially funded by the FOEN.
Chemical soil protection
Soil is exposed to a wide range of point and diffuse sources of chemical contaminants. Various measures at the source should reduce them so that soil fertility is not impaired. The FOEN supports the implementation of these measures by preparing the groundwork for the environmentally-friendly use of fertilisers and plant protection products and the reduction of soil pollution by other contaminants.
The substitution of lead in petrol, consistent flue gas treatment in municipal waste incineration plants and the limitation of cadmium levels in phosphorus fertilisers have proven to be effective measures in protecting soil from chemical pressures.
Voluntary action by large numbers of people is also important, such as hobby gardeners who avoid the use of plant protection products and use fertiliser sparingly.
Thematic project groups
Members of the administration, personnel at cantonal soil protection agencies and researchers work closely in thematic project groups on the issues involved in the implementation of protection measures. The working group on the implementation of physical soil protection (VBPhy) deals with issues related to the protection of soil from physical pressures; the working group on the implementation of soil biology (VBB) is mainly dedicated to the issues involved in implementing soil biology measures.
Last modification 21.01.2020