What is it?
Soil erosion involves the topsoil being blown away by the wind or washed away by rainwater or other water. It happens mainly when the soil is bare. Arable land is vulnerable to soil erosion in the periods immediately following sowing and harvesting.
Soil erosion results in the loss of fertile soil or damage to growing crops. Erosion also has an adverse effect on production capacity.
Erosion by water is an issue mainly on steep gradients (South Limburg). Wind erosion tends to affect soil that contains a lot of organic material, such as in fenlands. Erosion plays an important role in areas of dunes and drift sands. It is partly a natural process, by which new dunes and habitats for plants and animals are created. However, the excessive erosion of dunes can reduce their ability to act as a sea barrier.
Plants cover the ground with their leaves and hold the soil together with their roots. As a result, water flows away less, or more slowly. Stands or rows of trees and hedges act as windbreaks, preventing damage to fruit and other crops and assisting pollination.
Woodlands and marram grass hold sand in place, preventing it from being blown away. Hilly areas with loess soils tend to be the worst affected by water erosion. Bare sandy land is vulnerable to wind erosion.
Climate change is increasing the frequency of storms and heavy rain showers and can therefore increase the associated soil erosion.
In real life
Intelligent planting of hedges and wooded banks at right angles to the prevailing wind or water flow can reduce soil erosion. Creating grass strips and avoiding soil tillage, or ensuring that tillage is relatively shallow, can also be advantageous. Other helpful practices include the use of green manure after harvesting (e.g. winter rye, clover) and covering the ground with plant material such as straw.
Carbon sequestration in agriculture