Sanne de Rooij, communication manager at CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin, tells us more about the largest citizen science project in Flanders that conducts research into heat and drought in Flemish gardens. No fewer than 50,000 candidate participants registered, from which 5,000 were ultimately chosen. Their garden was analyzed on the basis of several measurement indicators.

This citizen science project, together with the help of citizens in Flanders, aims to analyze the heat and drought in our gardens by means of a soil sensor. In order to obtain the measurement data in real time and to analyze it quickly, this sensor was connected to the Internet of things network of telecom provider Orange.

Great success

In the summer of 2020, we launched a pilot project in some fifty gardens in Leuven. In this way we gained insight into the most important factors for the success of the project on a large scale. For example, more than one sensor was installed in various gardens so that we could find the most optimal location.”

In January 2021, we started our recruitment campaign to find participants all over Flanders. We then aimed for 5,000 registrations. It soon became clear that the interest among the population was high, because no fewer than 50,000 citizens, schools, companies and cities and municipalities registered! Unfortunately, we couldn't get everyone to participate, so we had a specially written algorithm make a selection based on a number of criteria such as the geographical location of their garden and the mowing method in order to achieve the necessary diversity. We also placed 600 sensors in Flemish agricultural and nature reserves. These are all places that you as a scientist do not come so quickly and that still form a blind spot on many maps.”


“We finally started on April 3, 2021, supporting everyone logistically with installing the sensor in their garden. We made the necessary manuals, on paper and in video form. We also asked the citizen scientists to complete some questionnaires about their general garden use, such as the maintenance method, layout and what they use their garden for. Our participants also took a soil sample: these 4,400 samples were analyzed for soil type and organic carbon. All factors that can influence the measurements. To keep everyone involved, we developed an online dashboard that was updated every 24 hours, on which you could read things such as the temperature and soil moisture measurements, but also how your garden compared to those of other participants.”

Unexpected twist

“The original idea of ​​CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin was to map the effects of heat and drought on gardens, playgrounds, parks, agricultural fields and nature reserves. That turned out differently because of the extremely wet summer we had. As a result, we had to move quickly and review our research questions. Soon the questions arose: is this a problem for the research? Has the investigation now failed? To be clear, this was an unexpected twist, but certainly not a negative one! Because those 5,000 soil sensors in the ground during the wettest summer ever were also equipped with a moisture meter, providing a unique dataset on how our gardens act as a sponge when it rains.”

For all of Flanders

“We think it is important that not only the participants take the results of the measurements. Together with 'De Standaard' we produced a dotted map on which both participants and non-participants could follow the temperature measurements in Flanders. At each dot you can also see the 'garden passport' of that measurement location, so that you can compare with gardens nearby or gardens similar to yours. In this way we tried to keep the involvement high for everyone. Candidate participants who had registered but were ultimately not selected to participate, receive a monthly newsletter about the project in which we share the scientific story behind the measurements in human language.”

Extension requires financial support

“Due to the great success and the unexpected turn of events, it was decided to extend the project from February to October 2022. This naturally also involves a financial cost. Every gift we receive is warmly welcomed and used for the smooth running of CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin. It is also always very pleasant to see that people support and believe in your project by contributing and/or participating in it. Of the 4,400 current citizen scientists, another 3,000 have registered for the follow-up study. We really notice that our participants are extremely enthusiastic and sp