Tag Archives: geography

GROW Observatory: citizen science in action


I have just been appointed the new Programme Director of the GROW Observatory (GROW) and I am delighted to be working with such an exciting project. The GROW Observatory, an EU Horizon 2020 project, is coordinated from Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art and Design at University of Dundee. Working with 18 partner organisations from 10 countries across the Europe, the project is an innovative approach to creating a community of citizen growers, gardeners, small scale farmers, scientists and policy makers, 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.

GROW will empower citizen growers, gardeners and small scale farmers to  understand better their environment and their impact on land and soil and to use that knowledge to address land degradation and habitat loss and fragmentation. To achieve this, GROW will deploy low cost sensing technology to gather data on key soil variables, collated via mobile phones and tablets, and large scale, world leading technology, including satellites. Growers will be empowered and encouraged to join a Europe wide network through the GROW advice service, that they will help to build by producing data and information on growing and soil management.


GROW is a wide ranging and varied partnership that is working with digital communities, environmental scientists, growers, gardeners and citizens interested in the environment.

You can help the partnership take its first steps by filling in our online Growers survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSc5Ud5I4mDre5tt70kukTRJeoyUdIjTVDKHWo_Kf_mKhu2G4w/viewform?c=0&w=1

Find out more here: www.growobservatory.org and on twitter @growobservatory


Why and how did a geographer get involved with medicinal plants in Nepal?

As a child I was fascinated by people, landscapes and wildlife. This was a fascination that led me, rather circuitously into plant conservation.

Plants and ferns have always been a big part of my life. I was always surrounded by plants at home and when I went to university, my plants came with me. They usually survived and some thrived on an annual pilgrimage to university. If you combine plants and the study of geography you end up with biogeography – why do plants grow where they grow and how has human activity shaped where they grow? From a PhD exploring how the landscapes of the Peak District in England were used in prehistory, via the archaeologically rich, yet palaeoecologically poor landscapes of Kilmartin Glen, I arrived at Plantlife, keen to do more to conserve plants where they should grow, as part of a living landscape, maintained by human activity and not denigrated by it.

And this is where I realised we‘ve lost the connection, in many cases with how landscapes can be managed to support plant diversity. We’ve got used to seeing wide landscapes of near monocultures. Think of the grouse moors of north east Scotland, the sitka plantations across Scotland, and the arable and pastural fields of the east coast. Yet, plants need the bits inbetween – the mosaic of habitats that we used to create through hedgerows, drove roads, woodlands, river banks and mountain sides. And in these inbetween bits, we always used to find plants that we used as medicines, food, fodder and fuel. How many people nowadays would know where to find a natural source of aspirin? How many people would appreciate the calorific value of a pignut, or where to find one?

Yet in Nepal, a country economically much poorer than Scotland, these connections are still made and in the case of medicinal plants, provide a local health service that sustains large parts of the population. Without these links to medicinal plants, many of Nepal’s communities would have no access to health care. This knowledge and these connections bring a different view of the world: what really is valuable and how can local communities maintain their access to those valuable resources? Although threatened by habitat loss and in some cases over collection, getting the whole community involved in conserving these plants is proving a good way to ensure plants are effectively conserved on the ground. However, getting the community involved isn’t just the answer. The best approach would be to combine the approach we have in the UK – usually government led, with support from other organisations including NGOs with the approach in Nepal, NGO and community led. Combining the two approaches, may well be the best tool we have to conserve plants, health care, food and fuel security. Governments and NGOS can provide a national vision of what is possible and what can be done. Local communities provide the wherewithal, the energy and commitment to get conservation actually working on the ground.

While this may be the best approach, is it an impossible dream? That’s what I want to find out.