Building Better Soil Through Citizen Science

Through Permaculture UK, we are excited to be a partner in the GROW Observatory, a European-wide project engaging thousands of growers as citizen scientists. We will learn together, using simple tools to better manage soil, while contributing to vital global environmental monitoring.

The GROW Observatory, an EU Horizon 2020 project which started in 2016 and runs until October 2019. Led by a team based at the University of Dundee, and working with 18 partner organisations from 8 countries across Europe, the project is an innovative approach to creating a community of citizen growers, gardeners, small scale farmers, scientists and policymakers, all working together to learn from each other, provide growing and policy advice and contribute data on local soil conditions, to help validate climate change models generated by satellite.

The project vision is to support and build smart and sustainable custodianship of the land and soil across Europe and to provide an answer to the long-standing challenge for space science, which is the need to validate climate change models with soil moisture detection on the ground. These data and this knowledge will in turn also be used to inform policy decisions on land use, soil management and climate change.

In 2017, two key “Missions” began; Changing Climate and Living Soils.

Changing Climate mission

This is led by CulturePolis in Greece. It is based in specific locations around Europe and involves the distribution of low-cost soil sensors which collect data on soil moisture, temperature and light levels every few minutes. The locations are called GROW Places and are mostly communities of growers passionate about their soil. Currently GROW Places are Evros & Laconia (Greece), Southeast and Northwest (Ireland), Miskolc (Hungary), Barcelona (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal), Tayside & Central belt (Scotland), Vienna (Austria), ’s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands), and Luxembourg (Luxembourg). If you live in one of these areas fill in this form to see if you are eligible to join.

The soil moisture data are being used by satellite scientists at the Technische Universität Wien (TU Wien) in Vienna, Austria to validate measurements from the Sentinel 1 and other satellite data. Spatial soil scientists at University of Miskolc in Hungary are using the data to develop interpolated maps of soil moisture that can be used as tools to help farmers understand the highs and lows of moisture across their sites. These maps are at the heart of interactive visualisations of soil moisture that will soon be available for all to see on the GROW website.

Living Soils Mission

This is led by the Permaculture Association (Britain). It is open to everyone anywhere in the world and aims to develop and support an active network of small-scale growers and gardeners who grow food by using, and collaboratively investigating, practices that regenerate soils and create resilient ecosystems. It includes free online courses, learning content, and citizen research experiments. There’s more information on what we’ve been doing below.

You can find out more about what the GROW Observatory have been doing here.