ESBN History

The European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN) was created in 1996, as a network of national soil science institutions, managed through a permanent Secretariat located at the Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra, Italy (Meyer-Roux and Montanarella, 1998). Since October 2000, the ESBN has become part of the Land Management Unit of the Environment Institute (IES), one of four institutes at the JRC Ispra site.

The ESBN's aim is to carry out scientific and technical work programmes in order to collect, harmonise organise and distribute soil information relevant to Community policies, to a number of Directorates General (DG's), to the European Environment Agency (EEA) and to individual Institutions of the EU Member States.

The origins of the ESBN go back more than a decade and are inextricably linked to the compilation of a European Soil Map and associated attribute databases. An EC Soil Map was produced at 1:1,000,000 scale in the 1970s by a loose network of academic soil scientists. The most important contributors to the map are listed below.

Belgium: J. Ameryckx, A. Louis, R. Maréchal, R. Tavernier; Denmark: K. Rasmussen; France: J. Dupuis, M. Jamagne, A. Mori, E. Servat; Germany: E. Mückenhausen; Greece: A. Koutalos, N. Yassoglou; Irish Republic: M. Gardiner, J. Lee; Italy: F. Mancini, R. Salandin; Luxembourg: A. Puraye, J. Wagener; Netherlands: H. De Bakker, J. Pons, J. Schelling, R. Van der Schans; Portugal: J. Carvalho Cardoso; Spain: A. Guerra, F. Monturiol; United Kingdom: B. Avery, R. Glentworth, R. Grant; FAO: R. Dudal; CEC: A. Cole, J. Gillot, A. Prendergast; Advisors: K. Beek, S. Lunt, G. Smith, C. Sys;Computerisation: H.B. Madsen, A.M. Norr, S.W. Platou .

The "digital age" for European soil information effectively began in 1982 when a "Computerisation of Land Data Group" (CLDG) was established by  DG AGRICULTURE, comprising representatives of the main centres of expertise within the EC at that time. The work of the CLDG was executed under the guidance of the Land and Water Use Steering Committee of DG AGRICULTURE.

The first meeting of the group was in Ispra in 1982. Draft proposals for the compilation of a Land Data Catalogue for the whole of the EC were presented at the second CLDG meeting in Montpellier (1983).

In 1985, the EC Soil Map was finally published in 7 sheets and covered the EC-12 countries (CEC, 1985). It was printed on a base map provided by the UK Military Authorities with a topographical component compiled from the ONC-map series (Operational Navigational Chart Series 1:250,000).

The base map comprised the geodetic constants of a Lambert conformal conical projection. A manual, describing the soil map units and their contents, was also published with the maps. This task was completed in parallel with the work of the CLDG but provided a key foundation basis for the future of digital European Soil Data.

The group continued to meet annually until 1988 and it was responsible for a number of initiatives with respect to European soil and land data:

  • Digitisation of the EC Soil Map (Platou et al,. 1989)
  • Compilation of an EC Land Data Catalogue (Nørr, 1986)
  • Proceedings of the Bonn (1986) and Pisa (1987) meetings (Jones and Biagi, 1989)
  • Proceedings of the Wageningen meeting (1988) on applications of the digital EC Soil Map and climate data (van Lanen and Bregt, 1989)

In 1989, DG AGRICULTURE ceased funding the activities of the Computerisation of Land Data Group and a period of dormancy followed. However, there was still a need for such activities at a European level. The MARS Project(Monitoring Agriculture with Remote Sensing) at JRC needed information on the water holding capacities of European soils for input to a model (CGMS) that was under development for forecasting the yields of the main agricultural crops throughout the continent (Vossen and Meyer-Roux, 1995). This lead in 1990 to the setting up of a Soil and GIS Support Group funded by the MARS Project (JRC). In the previous year (1989), a meeting of Heads of European Soil Surveys was held at Silsoe (UK) to review the activities connected with soil survey and data collection throughout Europe (Hodgson, 1991).

In addition to providing MARS with data on the water holding capacities of soils in Europe, the Soil and GIS Support Group began work on a number of fundamental database projects:

  • A major update of the EC Soil Geographical Database (the digital version of the published EC Soil Map) described by King et al. (1995b);
  • The compilation of a soil profile analytical database (Madsen, 1991, Madsen and Jones, 1995);
  • Development of a pedotransfer rules database (King et al., 1994; van Ranst et al., 1995).

As a result of its expanding activities, the Soil and GIS Support Group was renamed, in 1992, the Soils Information Focal Point (SIFP) with a work programme devised by a Soil Information System Development (SISD) Committee, under the chairmanship of Dr. D. King (INRA, Orleans, Fr.). The Heads of Soil Surveys met again in December 1994, in Orleans. At this meeting (Le Bas and Jamagne, 1996), it became clear that the amount of soil survey and soil monitoring activity, being undertaken in the member states of the EU, had reduced significantly compared to 1989 (Hodgson, 1991).

In an effort to revive soil monitoring as an important research activity, a network of centres of excellence in soil hydrology was set up (in 1994) under the EU Human Capital and Mobility Programme. This began to produce data for computing pedotransfer functions for estimating the hydraulic properties of European soils (Bruand et al., 1997).

At the Athens meeting of the SIFP in 1996, the European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN) came into existence and the SISD evolved into the ESBN Scientific Committee. Table 1 charts the meetings of the ESBN and its predecessor organisations that have been associated with the computerisation of soil and land data in Europe. Much of the work undertaken by the Soil and GIS Support Group, the SIFP/SISD and the ESBN (in its first year) is described in King et al. (1995a) and Heineke et al. (1998).

Starting in 2003 and in response to a new, European-level appreciation of the importance of soil resources, the ESBN has re-defined its aims and objectives so that it can make a full contribution to the development and implementation of the complete scope of soil management and protection within Europe. The ESBN has confirmed that as a network of the JRC it is a European organisation with a membership that does not represent single countries or national interests and whose principal interest is in the application of soil science in support of sustainable development throughout Europe. It is seeking to produce soil information for policy making in a reactive but also pro-active way, linking policy makers and soil scientists to improve reporting about soils in Europe. To support this aim it is developing close-working relationships with the European Environment Agency (EEA), in partnership with the JRC.


Date Location Organiser
1982 JRC Ispra, Italy  
1983 INRA, Montpellier, France Dr Jean-Paul Legros
1984 Bureau of Land Data (ADK), Vejle-Copenhagen, Denmark Dr Henrik Madsen
1985 Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, London, UK Mr Doug Fitch
1986 Ministry of Agriculture, Bonn, West Germany Herr E C Lapple
1987 CNR Instituto Elaborazione Informazione, Pisa, Italy Benedetto Biagi
1988 Stiboka, Wageningen, The Netherlands Dr Johan Bouma
1990 IRSA, JRC, Ispra, Italy Dr Paul Vossen
1991 University of Ghent, Ghent, Belgium Profs Tavernier, Van Ranst
1992 Madrid, Spain Dr Juan Jose Ibanez
1993 Geographical Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark Prof. Henrik Madsen
1994 BGR Hannover, Germany Dr Wolf Eckelmann
1995 FAO, Roma, Italy Dr Freddy Nachtergaele
1996 University of Athens, Athens, Greece Prof. Nicholas Yassoglou
1997 Regione Emilia Romagna, Bologna, Italy Drs Romano Rasio Dr Luca Montanarella
1999 Umweltbundesamt, Vienna, Austria Gundula Prokop Dr Luca Montanarella
2003 Institute for Environment and Sustainability , Ispra Dr Luca Montanarella
2004 Institute for Environment and Sustainability , Ispra Dr Luca Montanarella
2005 Presentation of Soil Atlas, London Dr Arwyn Jones
2007 Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources , Hannover Dr Wolf Eckelmann
2008 Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Paris Dr Christine LE BAS
2009 Szent Istvan University, Godollo, Budapest, Hungary Micheli Erika
2010 DG ENV in Brussels, BELGIUM Dr Arwyn Jones