Children are being encouraged to ‘plant their pants’ or any old pieces of cotton before digging them up eight weeks later to see how healthy their local soil is.
The idea is that healthy soil is alive with living organisms and will break down or degrade cotton more quickly than soil with low levels of microbial life. In other words, the more holes in the pants, the healthier the soil.
Once they have dug up their pants, which could be planted anywhere from farmland to window boxes, children can log their results on a new interactive UK soil health map.
It’s all part of a new citizen science campaign by children’s charity The Country Trust that is aiming to rekindle our lost connection with soil. A similar test has been done by people in Australia, giving an idea of what the degraded pants would look like.
It comes as new research found a third (27 per cent) of primary schoolchildren have never, or hardly ever, play or dig in soil. Additionally, half of primary school children (50 per cent) see soil as ‘just dirt’.
“Plant your Pants is a chance for us all to become soil scientists and discover that we stand on the rooftop of another amazing world which is teeming with life,” said chief executive of The Country Trust, Jill Attenborough.
“If we are all to thrive, we need to get our hands in the soil, learn how to make our soils healthier and become soil champions.”
Soil health is essential for anything from food production to carbon storage. It’s one of the top ways to slow climate change, as healthy soil stores more carbon, and is the biggest carbon sink after the oceans. Yet it remains one of the most undervalued and overlooked ecosystems in the world.
“Plant Your Pants is about helping children get stuck into soil and learn about why it’s so important,” said soil scientist at Cranfield University Dr Dan Evans.
“We want to help them understand why healthy soil is in danger at the moment and empower them to stand up for and protect this amazing, but fragile, resource.”
People can sign up to Plant Your Pants from now, with experiments to take place between March and June and results revealed by The Country Trust at the end of the summer term.
Participants will then be able to compare soil findings and ask questions to some of the UK’s leading soil scientists.
The campaign comes after a new soil health enquiry launched by the cross party Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, which is holding its first public soil evidence session this week.