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The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) is the global union of soil scientists. The objectives of the IUSS are to promote all branches of soil science, and to support all soil scientists across the world in the pursuit of their activities. This website provides information for IUSS members and those interested in soil science.

Lower Austria embraces the soil!

May 2007

Early in May I joined a group of land managers, legislators, regulators and a small number of soil scientists in the Benedictine Monastery at Seitenstetten, Lower Austria to celebrate the launch of Lower Austria’s initiative entitled Unser Boden wir stehen drauf!(see Lower Austria became a member of the European Land and Soil Alliance in 2003, and since this time has developed a programme to emphasise the importance of soil in most aspects of our daily lives, and stress the need to maintain and improve the quality of soil as a key component of strategies towards sustainable development. This programme has been undertaken with strong support by the Austrian Soil Science Society, who were represented at the meeting by their President, Andreas Baumgarten.

The launch of Unser Boden May 2007; left to right DI Josef Plank, Stephen Nortcliff (IUSS), Andreas Baumgarten (Austrian Soil Science Society) and Father Michael (Prior of the Seitenstatten Monastery)

The meeting organised by Dr. Erwin Szlezak had three components; a small number of papers; a breakout session to discuss key themes; and the launch of the soil trail. These three sections were introduced by the premiere of a short film (available on CD) entitled Unser Boden wir stehen drauf!. This is a professionally produced non technical film which emphasises the theme of this initiative in Lower Austria the importance of soils in most aspects of human life in both rural and urban environments (the soundtrack is available in both German and English). The two presentations from Dr. Wenzel Walter (BOKU, Vienna) and Stephen Nortcliff (IUSS) stressed the many functions that soils perform and the need to understand the inter-relationships between the soil and other environmental components. Plans for soil use and management should be based on this knowledge if soils are not to be damaged or destroyed. The breakout sessions focused on four themes: Intensive land management; Extensive land management; Energy production from the land; Integrated land management. There was lively discussion both within these groups and during the plenary session which followed.

The final part of the meeting was attended by DI Josef Plank, the Minister for Agriculture and Environment in the Lower Austrian regional government who has been a driving force behind this initiative. In his introduction he stressed the need to acknowledge the soil’s key role within the environment and the need to have policies which encourage the maintenance and improvement of soil quality as part of an integrated environmental management strategy. He also stressed that this initiative required the involvement of all the community and therefore was strongly in favour of actions to raise the awareness about the nature of soils, their dynamics and the key role they play in our lives.

Part of the outreach programme in Lower Austria has been the establishment of a Soil Trail which would lead participants around the landscape, showing soils as part of the landscape and through the provision of permanent soil profile exposures with seating and display boards, allowing the public to see the soil profile in its entirety, together with other information about different aspects of the soil, such as the differences in soil texture, the fauna and flora of the soil, and the incorporation and decomposition of organic matter. The original plan had been for the Minister to lead the group around the Soil Trail but the heavy rain on the day and indeed over the previous few days made this impracticable. Anticipating this the organisers launched the Soil Trail in the cloisters of the monastery, using excellent soil monoliths as substitutes for the real soil profiles. DI Plank congratulated the mayors from Ardagger, Behamberg, St. Peter in der Au and Strengberg for their active participation in the programme and presented each with a box of postcards which featured the soil from their district. To emphasise the strong links with all members of the community a small party of school children and local villages joined the main group and explained how this programme had opened up the under ground to them, showing them what a fascinating environment the soil is, and reinforcing their understanding of why it is important to protect the soil.

It was very pleasing to be involved in this launch. Through strong scientific and political leadership Lower Austria is making considerable stride in bringing an awareness to the population, young and old, of the key role soil plays in most aspects of our lives. We cannot ignore the soil! We cannot treat it like dirt!

Stephen Nortcliff

Secretary General IUSS