Eco-engineering and conservation of slopes (ECOSLOPES)


ECOSLOPES was a multi-disciplinary EC funded project that had inputs from engineers, geomorphologists, soil scientists, ecologists and foresters and has produced techniques and tools to improve slope stability and reduce erosion across Europe.

Across Europe, the effects of forest vegetation on soil stabilisation, rockfall, and erosion ware examined on a variety of reference sites. The removal of plantation trees, and the impact of repeated forest fires on slope degradation was evaluated, along with the recovery of the ecosystem and consequences for erosion. As the uprooting of trees in damaging storms contribute to the loss of soil from steep sloping sites, Forest Research staff compared the stability and root architecture of trees growing on sloping and horizontal ground.

The data gathered from field experiments at Leanachan forest, west Scotland, and from 3-D digitising of large root systems, were used in the development of models of tree architecture, slope stability and tree stability.

The final part of the project was the development of a ‘Slopes Decision Support System’ which is a tool to assist eco-engineers in managing vegetation on vulnerable slopes to minimise soil loss.

Research objectives

Investigate and describe the mechanisms by which woody plants and trees reinforce soil and hence increase slope stability. Components which contribute to both tree and slope stability (e.g. shoot and root system architecture and root strength) were defined during the project.
Examine tree stability on natural and artificial slopes with a view to understanding the mechanisms of anchorage mechanics. The prevention of tree instability on slopes is a major concern because slope stability decreases following a storm where trees have been uprooted, leading to soil erosion and landslides. During the project, data from tree pulling experiments were fed into tree stability models.
Examine restoration and erosion control options of fire prone Mediterranean slopes, with a view to determining how repeated forest fires affect slope degradation and soil erosion, and whether afforestation techniques or natural regeneration improve slope stability. Forest fires in hilly Mediterranean regions result in the loss of ecosystems, soil and valuable wood resources. In addition, terraces used for cultivating fruit trees can be prone to mass movement when abandoned by farmers. Studies were carried out by ECOSLOPES partners to examine the relationships between maintenance/restoration techniques and terrace stability.
Compare the suitability of selected species on both natural and artificial slopes and monitor their behaviour. During the project, data on species use, behaviour and site type were incorporated into a database, which will be a tool for construction engineers, landscape architects, foresters and ecologists, when deciding what and where to plant on a site, in relation to the soil, climatic conditions and slope type.
Develop models of slope stability and stability of vegetation on slopes in order to predict how a slope can fail, and how that failure could be prevented. The mechanical behaviour of trees on slopes was modelled at an individual level and scaled up to the stand level.
Develop a Slopes Decision Support System (SDSS), to be used as a tool by foresters, engineers and eco-engineers.  
Produce guidelines for future safety recommendations for use at a European level. The increasing damage caused by natural events such as storms, floods, fires, landslides and avalanches, shows the need to develop legislation concerning the safety of slopes in areas of high risk.
Disseminate results obtained in the project by providing advice and guidelines for construction engineers, foresters, geologists, landscape architects and ecologists in both Europe and at an international level.  

Funders and partners

EU flag
This programme was funded by the European Union - Framework Programme FP5
Partners in the project included research groups from France, UK, Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Spain.

Forest Research involvement

As part of the ECOSLOPES project, Forest Research investigated the stability of trees growing on sloping and horizontal ground, and related differences to root architecture. Data were used in models of slope and tree stability, tree architecture and forest stand dynamics. Tools were developed for eco-engineers, in the form of a Slopes Decision Support System (SDSS).


The project was completed at the end of 2004. 

Publications from the ECOSLOPES project

Norris, J., Stokes, A., Mickovski, S.B., Cammeraat, E., van Beek, L.P.H., Nicoll, B.C. and Achim, A. (eds.) 2008. Slope stability and erosion control: Ecotechnological solutions: Springer. 290 pages; ISBN 978-1-4020-6675-7.


Stokes A, Spanos I., Norris J.E., Cammeraat L.H. (eds.) 2007. Eco- and Ground Bio-Engineering: The Use of Vegetation to Improve Slope Stability. Proceedings of the First International Conference on Eco-engineering 13-17 September 2004, Thessaloniki, Greece. Developments in Plant and Soil Sciences Vol. 103, Springer, Dordrecht. ISBN-10: 1-4020-5592-7; ISBN-13: 978-1-4020-5592-8.


Bruce Nicoll

EU contract details

Co-ordinator: Dr Alexia Stokes, INRA

Contract:  QLRT-2000-00289, Quality of Life & Management of Living Resources, FP5