Digging in the soil! A lot of people do it every now and again. For some people digging is their job. Those are workers involved in underground infrastructure, such as cables, pipes, sewers, etc. Although those digging activities can be done using machines, they can also be done manually with a spade. There are also lots of people who do not work with the soil as part of their job, but still dig. These include children digging a hole in the ground when playing on the beach or in the garden. However adults also dig, for example to sow or plant ornamental plants or vegetables in their garden.
Digging is an experience
Digging is more than just removing soil to create a hole. Digging is also an experience. It reveals all kinds of things going on under the surface and you never know what you will find. Have you ever dug using your hands? If so, you will notice that a clay soil feels very different than a sandy soil.
Soil is centuries old
In undisturbed soils you can often still identify the natural layers of the ground, with a dark coloured layer at the top where the organic material has accumulated. Because soil has been created over a period of decades or even centuries, and because sometimes residues of earlier times are found in the form of potsherds, the remnants of pipes or unexploded ordnance, these layers and objects in the soil represent a piece of Dutch history.
Digging for pleasure or work
Digging in the soil can be relaxing. That certainly applies to digging with your hands. However, whether you are digging for pleasure or work, you should take a number of things into account. In the first place the soil is full of cables and pipes, particularly in urban areas. It is best not to break them. Touching, damaging and cutting electricity cables or gas pipelines can even lead to dangerous situations.
Then there is another danger: The soil contains all kinds of chemical substances. Most of these are useful because plants need them. However, some chemical substances in the soil may be dangerous to people's health if they ingest too much of them. That may happen when people swallow chemicals attached to soil particles via hand to mouth contact, or when they inhale soil particles. More information can be found under the section entitled 'I am worried about soil contamination'. The Soil Portal depicts research contours showing where soil contamination may exist in the Netherlands.
Policy about working in the soil
Mechanical digging is subject to the Above-ground and Underground Networks (Information Exchange) Act (WIBON) with local authorities acting as the substrate manager. Digging requires a permit from the local authority and a digging notification has to be made. Resources which can be used in connection with digging are the Reprint of the CROW 400 publication entitled 'Working in and with contaminated soil' and the CROW 500 publication entitled 'Preventing damage to cables and pipes'.
The legal framework for the assessment of the health effects of chemical substances in the soil is the national Soil Protection Act. Although it does not focus directly on digging activities, the law does include an obligation to report to the competent authority in the event of digging in cases of serious soil contamination.
Digging in cemeteries is regulated in the Burial and Cremation Act.
Lots of local authorities have recorded the rules relating to moving soil in a Soil Management Memorandum. When moving soil, the Soil Quality Decree has to be complied with. The basic principle of this decree is that used soil must not have a detrimental effect on the existing soil quality.
The zoning plan must indicate the soil's function and the construction-related possibilities. In this context one of the considerations is archaeology. Any additional protection of archaeologically interesting areas is generally referred to by local authorities as dual purpose in the zoning plans.
Numerous local authorities have drawn up a local heritage by-law. This often stipulates that you are not allowed to dig deeper than a certain depth without a permit (for example 40 cm), unless the area in question has a low archaeological value.
The Act on the Preservation of Archaeological Monuments (or the Valletta Treaty) came into effect on 11 September 2007 and since then all companies that perform archaeological digs in the Netherlands must apply for a permit.
What can you do?
- Before you start digging, you should consult the Soil Portal or your municipality to ensure that you do not start digging in seriously contaminated soil.
- If there is some soil left after your digging activities, you are not allowed to simply dump this somewhere else. In some municipalities you can take the excess soil to the recycling depot.
- Consult your municipality if you are going to move soil. Numerous municipalities have their own policy on reusing soil.
- Archaeological finds are often vulnerable as a consequence of processes in the soil. If you discover an archaeological find, you can use the first aid in the event of vulnerable find materials.