The Federal Environment Agency Soil Protection Commission

Table of Contents


The Commission

Soil protection continues to be treated as the stepchild of environmental politics. This is not just, for soils and their many interconnections to water, air and the climate as well as providing the site for foods and feedstuffs play a crucial role at the heart of precautionary environmental politics. To support the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in the area of soil protection, Prof. Dr. Andreas Troge, UBA President at the time, appointed the Soil Protection Commission in 2004. Its objective is to raise public awareness of soil protection and to provide impulses for future soil protection strategies in environmental politics.

As a cross-task of environmental protection soil protection is in the hands of many public task managers. In addition to the Federal Soil Protection Act and the Federal Soil Protection and Contaminated Sites Ordinance a great number of other environmental regulations govern soil protection issues. This led to a situation where there is no national uniform level of protection that applies to all area of soil protection. There is a particular need to harmonize evaluation schemes for harmonization is urgent, in part because European and international environmental regulations governing soil protection will move to the forefront in future.

The legislation on soil protection in existence since 1998 is to be further developed by the Soil Protection Commission. New developments such as the European Commission’s soil protection strategy are to be followed. Last but not least new threats to soils are to be detected early on and preventative and containment strategies developed.

The Commission’s objectives

  • Improve precautionary protection of soils against impact of substances and other inputs;
  • Develop quality standards for the restoration of damaged soils which in turn enable specific ecological soil functions to be realized;
  • Avoid the continued increasing use of soil for human settlement and transport purposes;
  • Early detection of new sources of contamination and threat to soils and to propose preventative measures.

Commission foundation

The Soil Protection Commission (KBU) was officially founded on 6 December 2004, immediately after World Soil Day. The Commission serves as a means link work done in the field at the federal level: it connects the most important stakeholders of soil protection from science, the field, and public administration.

All the important disciplines to uphold sustainable soil protection are represented on the board. In addition to the classic disciplines of geological and agricultural sciences, the KBU also includes members for sustainable development, economics, ecotoxicology, and remediation of contaminated sites. Its members work on a volunteer basis and are appointed by the President of the Federal Environment Agency for a period of three years each. The second period of appointment to the KBU started at the beginning of 2008; all members were re-appointed.

Commission mission

The KBU provides professional advisory support to the Federal Environment Agency, in particular to the Soil Department.  It also works on issues of soil protection and related subjects.

Commission working method

  • The KBU determines main focus topics for a working cycle.
  • The KBU conducts hearings and workshops on main focus topics.
  • The KBU produces and publishes expert opinions on critical issues in soil protection.
  • The KBU issues position papers at short notice on current topics and participates in public debates.

Soil Protection Commission focus areas

In one of its first meetings held in February 2005, the Soil Protection Commission (KBU) formulated three focus areas for the 2004-2007 working period.

Renewable organic resources and soil quality

In its integrated energy and climate programme, the Federal government has decided to significantly expand the use of bio-energy. For this aim to be reached with the crops and conversion technologies which are at present available, most of the arable land in Germany would have to be turned over to the cultivation of renewable organic resources (RORs), or corresponding quantities would have to be imported. The Soil Protection Commission of the Federal Environment Agency (KBU) has taken this development as an opportunity to evaluate the effect of the cultivation of RORs and to make public recommendations for the protection of natural soil processes in Germany.

The Soil Protection Commission’s most important findings and recommendations

The KBU reveals that RORs offer opportunities for climate protection, increased income for farmers, and the development of rural areas.  However, the KBU also lends its recognition to the primacy of the human right to proper nutrition over and above that of energy use, and has spoken out clearly in favour of maintaining sustainability standards in the exporting countries as well as in the importing ones.

The KBU has observed with concern the increasing competition over arable land for

  • Foodstuffs and livestock feed,
  • The cultivation of RORs and
  • Urban developments and transport infrastructure.

The KBU recommends the promotion of only those ROR cultures which best balance energy and climate protection considerations, and, where possible, the use of urban wasteland for their cultivation.

KBU assesses the risks to the soil of various ROR cultures in respect of:

  • Erosion,
  • Intensification of damage to soil in particular areas,
  • Accumulation in soils or through discharge to other environmental media of
    • Nutrients,
    • Pesticides
    • Pollutants,
  • Loss of soil biodiversity, and
  • Loss of topsoil.

The finding of the KBU is that the ROR cultures which currently predominate entail relatively high levels of risk. In order to avoid a situation where the negative impact on the environment of agricultural activity continues to increase, the KBU recommends that less intensive (in respect of fertilisers, pesticides and need for soil processing) cultures and perennial cultures be favoured.

The recycling of waste materials (ashes and digestates) from the energetic use of RORs as fertiliser makes sense as a means of completing the nutrient cycle. However, only as many nutrients should be used as can be absorbed by the plants, and the nutrients should not be permitted to accumulate in the soil.

In its paper the KBU evaluates the existing legal norms for the cultivation of RORs and makes recommendations which would lead to their becoming more concrete and definite. It also uses the open questions to derive projections of the need for further research in the future.

Cover of Recommendation of the Federal Environment Agency Soil Protection Commission: Soil protection and cultivation of regenerative resources (in German)The Recommendation of the Federal Environment Agency Soil Protection Commission: Soil protection and cultivation of regenerative resources in German have now been published and are available to download or as a brochure.

Pollutants and soils

This focus area covers the aspects of ”soil as a sink – limits for substance inputs”, ”Harmonization of soil assessment schemes”, and ”Biological pollutants in and on soils”.

Substances and materials are introduced into soils through agriculture and via the air, and they may place a burden on plants, animals, and humans.  However, soils also have the capacity to break down or bind these substances, but their tolerance does have its limits.  So as not to overburden soil’s capacities a tolerable level of substance input must be defined, whereby its biodiversity is maintained.

Improvement is needed in the regulations on how to process organic wastes such as compost, sewage sludge, manure, as well as mineral wastes, e.g. demolition waste, slag, and ash.  Guidelines on air pollution control are taken into account.

Industrial wasteland covered with rusted chemical binsAt the European level there are evaluation schemes for chemicals which include soil assessment. Internationally, standards in air pollution control are based on the concept of critical loads, but even these concepts have not been harmonized.  In light of the imminent European debate about soil protection, this is a focus area which requires urgent attention and is to be supervised by the KBU.

In addition to substance inputs problematic biological inputs must also be evaluated.  Biological soil contamination can mean inputs of infectious germs and bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics.  If these germs remain intact in the soil, must one assume that soil poses risk of infection?  Can resistance from soils be transferred to other media and life forms?  These are questions which originated in the era of the BSE crisis and are relevant once again in light of the cultivation of genetically modified plants.

Soil protection and soil awareness

Hands holding seedlingThis is a special area which touches upon aspects that go beyond the purely scientific.  Certain deficiencies in soil protection are in some part the fault of limited or even false public knowledge of soil and its critical function as a means of livelihood.  Is soil seen as a fragile medium that is worthy of protection, and is its significance as a natural resource recognized?  Or is its image that of a particularly robust and indestructible material?  Which avenues exist to focus more public attention on soil protection?  The knowledge and positions of associations, agriculture and forestry management, consumers, educational and training institutions, administration, industry, and politics, will be investigated.

Other focus areas are:

  • Ecological assessment of clean-up procedures, so as not to perpetuate problems associated with derelict land,
  • Soil quality criteria for use in zoning plans,
  • Flood protection by means of appropriate soil management.

Scientific Advisory Council on Soil Protection

From 1998 to 2003 the Scientific Advisory Council on Soil Protection acted as an independent advisory committee for the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.  Council members included experts in agriculture and forestry, geology, human toxicology, ecotoxicology, pedology, contaminated sites, water management, and soil biology.  By involving the most important fields of expertise the Council applied an interdisciplinary approach to handle the variety and complexity of the scientific aspects of its work.



Prof. Dr. Franz Makeschin

Educated farmer, studies of agricultural sciences at Weihenstephan and the University of Göttingen, abroad employment for FAO and GTZ in Honduras and Brazil, scientific co-worker at the Munich University, Professor for Soil Biology and Soil Ecology at Halle University, since 1995 Professor for Soil Science and Soil Protection at TU Dresden. He is member of the Saxon Academy of Sciences, he has been president of the German Soil Science Society and he is member of acatech "Council for Engineering Sciences at the Union of the German Academies of Science and Humanities", head of the UNEP-UNESCO-BMU-Postgradual Courses "Environmental Management in Developing Countries" at the Dresden University of Technology. Co-ordination of several research projects on sustainable land use and soil protection at home and abroad (Canada, Ecuador, Brazil and China). Prof. Dr. Makeschin is an associate editor of periodicals European Journal of Forest Research and Forest Ecology and Management.

Dr. Wolf Eckelmann

Expert for Soil Information Systems and Geoscientific Data
Dr. Wolf EckelmannHead of "Mineralogy, Pedology", Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR). Chair of the "Ad-hoc-AG Boden" (German federal / state committee on soil; editor of the German soil mapping guide KA 5). Member of "EuroGeoSurveys" and of the "European Soil Bureau Network" (ESBN), chair of the ESBN Soil Information Working Group. Member of the Advisory Forum on the EU Soil Thematic Strategy, 2003-2004; 

Prof. Dr. Felix Ekardt, LL.M., M.A.

Expert for Environmental Law
Prof. Dr. Felix EkardtStudied law, philosophy and sociology.  He was Professor at Research Center for European Environmental Law as well as Bremen Institute of Transnational Constitutional Law of the University of Bremen since 2003 and is Professor for Public Law and Juristic Philosophy at the University of Rostock since 2009. Practicing lawyer since 1995.  Visiting Professor at the University of Leipzig. Member of the Scientific Advisory Council of German branch of Friends of the Earth (BUND). Head of the Research Group Sustainability and Climate Policy.

Prof. Dr. Jens-Uwe Fischer

Expert for remediation of contaminated sites and land management
Prof. Dr. Jens-Uwe FischerHead of Deutsche Bahn AG Remediation Management since 1997. Honorary professorship for integrative land recycling at the Faculty of Economics of the University of Leipzig.

Prof. Dr. Peter Grathwohl

Expert for hydrogeology and contaminated sites
Prof. Dr. Peter GrathwohlProfessor for Hydrogeochemistry/Applied Geology, Institute for Geosciences of the University of Tübingen, since 1996. Actually he is the dean of the geoscience faculty.  Member of German Scientific Advisory Council for Soil Protection until 2003.  He coordinates national and international research projects focusing on pollutant behavior in water and soil (Sickerwasserprognose - groundwater risk assessment - Natural Attenuation). Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology and board member of of other professional journals, including Hydrology and Earth System Sciencesand Waste Management.  Member of the DFG Senate on Graduate Schools. 

Prof. Dr. Reinhard F. Hüttl

Expert for Soil Protection and Recultivation
Prof. Dr. Reinhard F. HüttlProfessor for Soil Protection and Recultivation at the Technical University of Cottbus since 1993, and Chairman of the Executive Board and Scientific Board at the GeoForschungsZentrum in Potsdam. Member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, membership from 1996-2000 in Environmental Advisory Council of the German Federal Government. Appointment as member of the German Science Council (Wissenschaftsrat) in 2000, chairman of its Scientific Commission since 2003. He is chairman of the Bio-Economic Council and spokesman for Transregio 38 Künstliches Wassereinzugsgebiet, joint special research project of the BTU Cottbus, TU Munich and ETH Zürich. Also acts as (associate) editor of scientific journals Water, Air and Soil Pollution and  Bodenschutz. He was chairman of the KBU during the first period of appointment to the KBU.

Dr. Kerstin Hund-Rinke

Expert for soil ecotoxicology
Dr. Kerstin Hund-RinkeHead of the Soil Biology Department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology since 2001. Has worked as an expert on the ecotoxicological/ecological assessment of soil quality and bioavailability of contaminants for many years. Member of scientific advisory board on issues of fertilization of the Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture, member of various committees involved in issues of soil biology/environmental biotechnology soil, and of DIN, the German Institute for Standardization.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Köpke

Expert for organic agriculture
Prof. Dr. Ulrich KöpkeProfessor for Organic Agriculture at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Bonn since 1987, where he heads the Institute for Organic Agriculture and the Wiesengut experimental farm. President of the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research.  Head of several interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary researcher groups. He serves in several national and international organisations and boards e. g. German Council for Land Stewardship.

Prof. Dr. Friedrich Rück

Expert for Town and Country Planning, Soil Taxonomy, and Site Ecology
Prof. Dr. Friedrich RückProfessor of pedology at the Faculty of Agricultural Science and Landscape Architecture at Osnabrück University of Applied Science since 1999.  Managing director of German Federal Ministry for Environment's Scientific Advisory Council on soil protection until 2003.  Member and expert of various project panels of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (research foundation). 

Prof. Dr. Dr. habil. Dr. h.c.  Ewald Schnug

Expert for Agriculture, Fertilizers, and Pollutants
Prof. Dr. Dr. Ewald SchnugDirector of the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science at the former Federal Agricultural Research Centre in Braunschweig-Völkenrode since 1992.  This Institute is affiliated to the Julius-Kühn-Institute since 2008. Member of Scientific Advisory Council for fertilizer issues of the Federal Ministry for Consumer Protection, Vice President of the International Scientific Centre for Fertilizers (CIEC), Chairman of Agenda 21 Sustainable Agriculture Task Force in the Baltic Sea region, member of editorial board of various international scientific journals.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Wiggering

Professor of Geo-ecology at the University of Potsdam; Head of the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Müncheberg since 2001. Acting president of Federal Soil Association (Bundesverband Boden - BVB), Vice-President of Consortium on Soil and Contaminated Sites (BVBA).  Member of advisory council of the national initiative to promote sustainable agriculture (Fördergemeinschaft Nachhaltige Landwirtschaft – FNL) and Chairman of Scientific Advisory Council of the Ecology Centre of the University of Kiel.  Head, Steering Committee of “Landscape Tomorrow” research network, initiator of the Entwicklung Ländlicher Räume [Rural Development] Berlin/Brandenburg research platform.  Associate editor of scientific journal Environmental Geology.

Prof. Dr. Jutta Zeitz

Expert for Pedology, peat soils, and site ecology
Prof. Dr. Jutta ZeitzDirector of Soil Science and Site Ecology Department since 1999, Professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin since 2003, where she is Vice-Dean of research at Faculty of Agriculture and Horticulture. 2001 - 2005 chairwoman of commission III "Soil protection" of the German Society of Soil Science (Deutsche Bodenkundliche Gesellschaft); member of the IPS and IMCG; works as consultant for the Federal Environment Foundation (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt).

Office of the Soil Protection Commission (KBU)

The office of the Soil Protection Commission (KBU) is operated from within Section II 2.7 ”Soil Quality, Soil Monitoring” of the Federal Environment Agency. KBU is headed by the section´s director Dr. Frank Glante.The office organizes the KBU’s conferences, hearings, and workshops.


Dr. Frank Glante

Studied biology at the Humboldt University in Berlin with a major in plant physiology. From 1984 to 1991 he cooperated on various projects on the use of bacterial and fungal symbioses in agriculture at the Müncheberg Research Centre for Soil Fertility (now ZALF e.V.).  Earned his doctorate degree in the selection, propagation and application of mycorrhizal fungi on maize and lucerne in 1988. Research associate at Federal Environment Agency since June 1991; Head of ”Soil Quality, Soil Monitoring” Section since November 1992.  Staff member of Soil Protection Commission (KBU) Office since January 2007.

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