Soil erosion is a natural process, occurring over geological time, and indeed it is a process that is essential for soil formation in the first place. With respect to soil degradation, most concerns about erosion are related to accelerated erosion, where the natural rate has been significantly increased mostly by human activity. Soil erosion by water is a widespread problem throughout Europe.
The processes of soil erosion involve detachment of material by two processes, raindrop impact and flow traction; and transported either by saltation through the air or by overland water flow. Runoff is the most important direct driver of severe soil erosion by water and therefore processes that influence runoff play an important role in any analysis of soil erosion intensity.
By removing the most fertile topsoil, erosion reduces soil productivity and, where soils are shallow, may lead to an irreversible loss of natural farmland. Even where soil depth is good, loss of the topsoil is often not conspicuous but nevertheless potentially very damaging. Severe erosion is commonly associated with the development of temporary or permanently eroded channels or gullies that can fragment farmland. The soil removed by runoff from the land, for example during a large storm, accumulates below the eroded areas, in severe cases blocking roadways or drainage channels and inundating buildings.
Erosion rate is very sensitive to both climate and land use, as well as to detailed conservation practice at farm level. The Mediterranean region is particularly prone to erosion because it is subject to long dry periods followed by heavy bursts of erosive rain, falling on steep slopes with fragile soils. This contrasts with NW Europe where soil erosion is less because rain falling on mainly gentle slopes is evenly distributed throughout the year and consequently, the area affected by erosion is less extensive than in southern Europe. However, erosion is still a serious problem in.