Soil degradation

Understand how the quality of soil declines and what causes this decline.

Soil degradation is the decline in soil quality caused by its improper use, usually for agricultural, pastural, industrial or urban purposes. 

Soil degradation is a serious global environmental problem and may be exacerbated by climate change. It encompasses physical, chemical and biological deterioration. Examples of soil degradation include loss of organic matter, decline in soil fertility, decline in structural condition, erosion, adverse changes in salinity, acidity or alkalinity, and the effects of toxic chemicals, pollutants or excessive flooding.

Soils host the majority of the world's biodiversity and healthy soils are essential to securing food and fibre production and providing an adequate water supply over the long term. Ecosystem services provided by soils are integral to the carbon and water cycles and include cultural functions. There are strong links between climate change and soil condition. Increases in soil carbon can help to mitigate Australia's greenhouse gas emissions and enhance adaptation to climate change.

Soils are one of NSW's fundamental natural resources. Therefore, maintaining and improving the condition of the State's land and soil resources by avoiding soil degradation is crucial to our well-being. The NSW State Plan includes two State-wide targets for land and soil management. They are:

  • improve soil condition
  • increase the area of land managed within its capability.

To measure progress towards achieving these targets, a program for land and soil condition called Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting (MER) has been developed. The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) is leading the implementation of this program.

The statewide MER program measures and reports on the status and change in a range of land and soil 'indicators', including those of regional significance. Supporting information includes land use and land management data and the provision of spatial information about land and soil capability.

Soil environmental issues

Many environmental issues directly affect soils and many environmental issues are influenced by land and soil management. These issues include:

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Page last updated: 28 September 2015