The Basque Country will have the first strategy that comprehensively addresses the protection of land
The Basque Government has approved the first Land Protection Strategy Euskadi 2030, which comprehensively addresses land management, moving beyond the traditional approach to working on contaminated soil, where the Basque Country is a benchmark in Europe. It thus becomes a pioneering strategy thanks to its approach both in the Basque Country and in Spain. In Europe only a few states or regions, such as Switzerland, Scotland, Wales or Holland have similar policies for comprehensive land management.
The Strategy, coordinated by the Department of Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment of the Basque Government and which a large number of entities have participated in, sets the ambitious goal of avoiding, through the sustainable management of soil, the degradation of this medium in net terms by the middle of the century, while guaranteeing its conservation in terms of health for biodiversity and people.
The document accepts that human activities affect soil quality and that social and economic development inevitably involve its use. In this context, two large objectives are established: on the one hand, minimising its occupation by recovering already anthropised land, i.e., modified by human activity, and on the other by compensating the effects of using virgin land, without forgetting the need to restore land subjected to degradation processes.
The Land Protection Strategy Euskadi 2030 defines five strategic objectives that are: reduction of land consumption; management of its occupation; protection of damaging impacts; restoration of degraded soil with the aim of restoring its functions taking into account its location; and protection through its sustainable management and use by professionals trained for this purpose and by informed citizens.
The Strategy also establishes the vision that all land in the Basque Country should be sustainably managed by 2050, thus guaranteeing the long-term health and functions of the land for its use by future generations.
In order to achieve this goal, the operating budget contemplated for the 2022-2030 period amounts to 137.5 million euros, a figure that will be destined to the development of the 69 actions described in the document.
Diagnosis of land in the Basque Country
In order to prepare this strategy, a preliminary diagnosis of the state of soil in the Basque Country has been carried out on aspects such as erosion, organic material in the ground, urban artificialisation-development, acidification, contamination, salinisation, compaction, loss of biodiversity, desertification, landslides and nutrient imbalance.
The diagnosis highlights the threat posed by erosion for the Basque Country's land and the need to include erosion determinants in any territory intervention or management policy. Likewise, it also states that the reserves of organic material in the Basque Country’s soil must be stabilised or increased, not only to improve the health of the soil and its resilience against climate change, but also to contribute towards the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Further information drawn from the diagnosis is that 20% of the total potentially contaminated locations inventoried have returned to the market once there has been an intervention on them to guarantee their quality and safety.
On the other hand, there is an evident need to pay special attention to the 1568 hectares of land with groundwater. Lastly, the increased number of periods of drought, forecast according to the regional climate change scenarios for the Basque Country, could increase the risk of desertification, to different extents, throughout the territory, though the south of Alava is the area most at risk. At the same time a theoretical increase in landslides is expected as a result of an increase in extreme rainfall due to global warming and greater human influence.
Action plan with 69 actions
After carrying out the diagnosis of the current situation of land in the Basque Country, with the collaboration of public administrations and institutions with competences and other stakeholders involved, 69 actions have been defined for the first action plan as a starting point to deploy the Land Protection Strategy for the Basque Country.
These 69 actions fall within 7 fields of activity: cross-cutting actions, territorial planning; agriculture, livestock and forestry; natural soil; contaminated soil of industrial origin; excavated soil and circular economy; and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Included among the actions are launching a recovery and reuse policy for vacant degraded land that enables the recovery of 400 hectares of contaminated soil. The joint action of the Sprilur and Ihobe public organisations is promoting the recovery of the main areas of historically contaminated soil. In Bizkaia, this is the case in some areas of Santurtzi, Burtzeña in Barakaldo, Inama in Muxika, and Playa Barri or Sakoni in Erandio. In Gipuzkoa, La Herrera in Pasaia, Oikia in Zumaia or Arcelor Mittal in Zumarraga.
From the perspective of the circular economy it is necessary to promote the reuse and recovery of excavated soil in locations that have gone through potentially contaminating activities, taking into account criteria of soil quality compatibility. One of these cases is that being carried out in Ibarzaharra, in Trapagaran and Sestao. After the recovery of the locations of the former Babcock-Wilcox installations to promote new activities, it has been necessary to raise the ground level by approximately 3 metres, mainly due to the risk of floods. In order to raise that level, part of the earth used originated from the reuse of excavated soil from projects in other locations that have gone through potentially contaminating activities, preventing its final destination from being landfill.
Another important aspect is the potential of soil to address the challenge of climate change, due to its ability to absorb carbon through the ground. Neiker is working on quantifying the carbon absorbed by soil, after implementing active measures to improve its carbon fixation. A good example of these measures are the regeneration of peri-urban spaces, such as the case of Tonpoi in Bermeo, the renaturing of the Artukitza dam in Donostia/San Sebastian or the different plots that are being intervened on in the agro-ecological park of Aramangelu/Basaldea, in Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Lastly, the deployment of the strategy from cross-cutting spheres will involve the launch of a soil health monitoring network based on the production of a Basque Country soil map, and on campaigns and actions to raise awareness and involve society as a whole in the sustainable management of land.