Creating a ‘global soil map’ to show how soil, from where we were born across the Earth, connects and supports us all, with Monkeyshine Theatre at the Grow Observatory Citizen Workshop at VISUAL Carlow on 1 Dec, 2018

Update: Grow Observatory is taking part in Ireland, across two areas: the South East (Carlow, Kilkenny, South Kildare, north Waterford and Wexford) and DONEGAL – Please contact Dee Sewell, in County Carlow at to learn more and get your sensors or Joanne Lindsey Butler in Donegal

In the unprecedented and intersecting environmental crises that humanity is facing, we often overlook how soil fertility is vital to global food security, carbon storage, biodiversity and the health of our environments. Estimates that we perhaps have only 50 harvests left due to the catastrophic decline of the Earth’s topsoils should be discussed in news headlines, as much as climate breakdown, mass species extinction and  the increasing social injustice that is already causing hardship to peoples in other countries. Our governments must urgently adopt new land policies that focus on regenerating soil fertility in every sphere, as a matter of urgency. We must act now as soil fertility is fundamental to all species’ wellbeing.

With the depressing facts about soil, it was welcome to hear more details about something, that those of us who have access to land, can do.  Grow Observatory EU citizens’ science project (initiated by Dundee Univ.), and organised in Ireland by Cultivate and Community Growers Ireland, was discussed at a seminar at Visual Carlow last weekend. Thank you so much Davie Philips of Cultivate and Dee Sewell (founder and Vice Chair of Community Gardens Ireland), and to the other speakers and VISUAL for holding such an important and engaging day. It was also great to see creativity being employed by MonkeyShine theatre to get us all thinking about soil connects and gives us  life. At the end of the day, Monkeyshine invited us to all plant a rolled-up paper note in soil of ‘our wish for soil in the future’, and rang a small bell to make that wish come true (sniff, it was surprisingly moving)

One our our Grow Observatory sensors in Hollywood Forest, Co. Carlow, Ireland

Hollywood Forest has two sensors, that over the last month  are collecting soil  moisture, light and temperature data. Via an app on my phone, Hollywood forest is sharing data for the Grow Observatory EU project  that correlates with space satellite data on soil health. Satellites, we found out, cannot sense precise local soil conditions and scientists need our help to make predictions to advise us on better food growing, farming (mixed farming practices will need to be adopted as a matter of urgency) and forestry (regenerative permanent forestry, like continuous cover forestry that is being employed in Hollywood, will be vital). Soil expert, Stuart Miekle, gave us a profound overview of how industrial, mechanized

Ground moisture, temperature and light data collected in Hollywood over a 1 day period – isn’t this so cool?

farming and artificial fertilizers have resulted in dying soils across the world. In reading a recent paper of his, I was encouraged that his comments give further reasons about why we need to move toward permanent forests that improve soil fertility: “We could and should be looking to recreate new, ‘ancient’ forests, to sequester and store carbon, to create forest grown timber resources and to regenerate soils.’ (Miekle, ‘Soil, Farming and Society’ in #SoilMatters – So how do we treat it? (2018).


So the Grow Observatory is a creative application of big data being used to collect, but also to share back to growers, valuable climate data. Also, a fascinating talk by Eoin McCuirc from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and Cork Food Policy Council, introduced how citizen science and open data could be used to empower citizens to play an active role in climate action and the transition to sustainable land use practices (look out for a new app from CSO next April that will collate all of Ireland’s land data for us all to use in our regions – this data will be so useful locally but it will also have a critical role for new policies for sustainable landuse).

In Ireland, across two areas,  the South East (Carlow, kilkenny, South Kildare, north Waterford and Wexford) and DONEGAL  have been selected to take part of GROW Observatory and so Hollywood is thrilled to be contributing (see other countries taking part below).

With Hollywood’s Grow Observatory sensors we are already fascinated to see the dramatic increase in soil moisture inside the forest after Ireland’s recent very dry summer, and also to see how little sunlight reaches the interior of the forest during winter months. We have another 5 sensors that will be placed on Drummin Bog, in South Carlow too.

IF YOU HAVE LAND in the South East or DONEGAL, Grow Observatory is looking to place 100s of sensors in the ground, preferably before the end of the year. As the project finishes next July, do get involved soon and you are able to keep the sensors afterwards.

Please contact Dee Sewell, in County Carlow at to learn more and get your sensors. She will also advise those of you interested and who are living in Co. Donegal.

PS There is a free MOOC (massive online training course) that has started this week all about the Grow Observatory with FutureLearn Citizen Science: From Data to Action
















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