Soil Scientist, Jen Jones, shares her personal journey of how she came to care so deeply for soil and explains what is currently happening to the pants you’ve planted for our Plant Your Pants campaign! Jen also shares with us some practical tips for how to take care of our own soil. 


Let's speak to Jen...


Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what sparked your interest to become a Soil Scientist?

I’m currently an honorary research fellow at Liverpool John Moores University, where I taught soil science for around 25 years. My interest in soil science began during my undergraduate studies in geography and botany, but until my second year, I had never really thought much about soil! What truly sparked my interest was learning how varied soil is around the country – I'd never thought about it before. So, in my final year, I focused my project on the Dune system, north of Liverpool, where I learnt a lot about soil formation and how soil ages through time.  

After my degree, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a studentship to embark on a PhD in Soil Science, where I was particularly interested in how soils can become contaminated, as well as the wet and squelchy environment of peat bogs (also a type of soil). Because of this, my research was based on heavy metals and their impact on peat bogs throughout the country. It was a great 3 years. 


How do you describe soil? 

For me, I explain soil as a mix of inorganic and organic materials. It has pores and holes throughout, where you can find air and water. Air includes all sorts of gases, not just oxygen, such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. These gases and water vapours will all interact through time and make a mixture of minerals that support life.  

Soil doesn’t just appear – it takes time to create and is a very slow process. Imagine If I gave you a piece of rock and told you it would become soil - you wouldn’t believe me! But if you could come back to it in 10,000 years, it would be soil. Perhaps that’s why people may not find soil as interesting as other natural elements, such as volcanoes, because of the slow nature at which it’s transformed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not as special.  


If I held up a spoon of soil and said “there are as many organisms in that teaspoon as there are people on earth” – initially people wouldn’t believe me. But we’re talking about very tiny organisms that are so important for everything, including our pants that are currently in the soil!  


What do you think about Plant Your Pants and what would you like to see as a result? 

Plant Your Pants is an excellent idea, and a great way to engage people because we can all relate to pants! When The Country Trust contacted me about their plans, I was delighted. It’s a shame that people are unaware of just how important soil is and the wonderful things it does, and Plant Your Pants introduces us to a very important element of soil – the part that we don’t see. It shows us just how crucial those hidden creatures are and how important soil health is to support this ecosystem. The health of the soil will determine how broken down the pants will be. 


What’s currently happening to the pants in the soil?  

Planting cotton pants adds organic matter to the soil (just as in autumn when leaves fall to the ground). There are lots of creatures in the soil that feed on organic matter, and the large ones, such as earthworms, start on it first. We have more organisms living in some soils than in others. 

Organisms are like us - they require enough air, water and food to be healthy! So, some soils are not as healthy as others. Being able to explore different areas and types of soil due to Plant Your Pant will show us this.  

Creatures will see these pants as a food source and start to feed on them and break them down.

Soil is also rich in fungi, and many fungi will start to feast on the pants too, as well as bacteria. There is a whole community of organisms who’ll say, ‘Oh look, here’s some food’ and start feeding on it. It will be very interesting to see the results. 


How does this show the health of our soil? 

If the pants have broken down quite a bit, that’s a sign of healthy soil - one that’s got lots of organisms in it. If they don’t break down as much, that might be because there are fewer organisms, which could be due to many factors, a couple being damp soil or dry soil, for example. 


Thanks, Jen, for giving us a picture of what's currently happening to our pants! Do you have any tips on how we can protect our soil? 



Tips from a Soil Scientist


  • Only add organic matter to your soil: try to stay clear from fertilisers and use compost heaps instead. Compost heaps are not only cheaper but better for the soil and environment – they also grow better fruits and vegetables!  

Tip: Collect leaves from your garden to make a leaf mulch that you can add to the soil.  

Compost is a mixture of decomposed organic matter, such as plant waste or manure.


  • Don’t over-dig your soil: Soil can be dug to a very fine till. But this releases carbon dioxide, which we don't want to do, and makes it very fine, meaning it can get washed away in the rain.  

Tip: Don’t dig your soil too much! 

Over digging can put too much air into the soil. This can provide an unstable footing for plant roots, damage soil structure, and disrupt the balance of particles and space already in the soil.


The Country Trust

Have you already planted your pants? Don’t forget to upload your pictures to our Plant Your Pants map here.