News and Blog

Cranfield scientists commence work on the 'SOILL-Startup' Soil Living Laborotories project

The "A Soil Deal for Europe" Mission aims to accelerate the transition to healthy soils by 2030 through the establishment of 100 Soil Health Living Labs and Lighthouses (SHLL/LHs) that will drive the development and adoption of solutions. The Framework Partnership SOILL, led by ENoLL (the international association of certified Living Labs), has been created to coordinate, support, expand, and promote the network of 100 SHLL/LHs.

During the initial two years of SOILL, the SOILL-Startup project will collaborate with the first waves of SHLL/LHs and key stakeholders to launch the SOILL one-stop structure. This involves:

  • Establishing a high-quality structure for SHLL/LHs with clear processes and procedures. A web-based Hub will be created to facilitate outreach, collaboration, support, and monitoring within and beyond the 100 SHLL/LHs network.
  • Providing comprehensive support to SHLL/LHs for a harmonized and sustainable approach within the network. This includes capacity building through training and supporting tools on methodologies, technical aspects, and crosscutting areas. Regular monitoring and evaluation of SHLL/LHs will be conducted based on a consolidated assessment framework.
  • Supporting network expansion by promoting, engaging, matchmaking, and advising applicants to Mission calls. Events will be organized to showcase funding opportunities, provide examples, and disseminate information on the SHLL/LH concept and its implementation. Webinars, coaching, and matchmaking will assist applicants in conceptualization and consortia creation for their applications.
  • Facilitating knowledge exchange, collaboration, and synergy creation within the SHLL/LHs network and the wider community. SOILL-Startup will enhance the visibility and accessibility of the SHLL/LHs, their work, and achievements. Mutual-learning events, collaborative platforms, mutual visits, and matchmaking will facilitate collaboration opportunities, knowledge sharing, and solution uptake.
Read more at the project website:

You will also find the project on X and LinkedIn.

SOILL Startup project logo

Living Lab and Urban Observatory supporting Cranfield's Environmental Policy and Environmental Targets

The University aims to provide a sustainable environment in which to live and work, both at the University campuses and other areas affected or influenced by its activities.

The Living Laboratory and Urban Observatory support Cranfield's work in this area, including the University's Environmental Policy and Environmental Targets. The Living Lab is a key element of the University's Environmental Policy Statement, approved by the Vice Chancellor.

Find out more

Our Sustainable university

Our 2030 Environmental Targets

Environmental policy and governance

Environmental Policy Statement

Biodiversity plot

New Weather Stations on their way!

Three new weather stations have been installed on campus to replace the original systems. They are currently located at the solar farm, DARTeC, and across from the Agri Informatics building. The DARTeC system will enable real-time collection of data and alerting for the DARTeC Ground Operations Lab team.

A lightning monitoring and detection system is also on order and has been funded by the Net Zero Research Airport project.

We are currently setting up the new server and data collection system - watch this space!

Weather station

Drone Noise Trials

Noise generated by UAVs is an increasing area of interest and a team from the School of Water, Energy and Environment, Cranfield Defence and Security, DARTeC and Cranfield Airport, have been involved in pilot research investigating the issue.

This work has resulted in DARTeC purchasing a noise monitoring station, which is availble for use in research.

Find out more at Drone noise: trials help build data on sound impact

This work resulted in Simon Jude commenting in this BBC News item - UK set to have world's biggest automated drone superhighway


Net Zero Research Airport

The Living Lab and Urban Observatory form part of a new £3.1m UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) project - the Net Zero Airport project - which will support steps to decarbonise aviation. The funding will enable further expansion of the Urban Observatory sensor network, supporting the development of an airport 'digital twin' and a net zero sensor testbed.

Find out more at Major boost for sustainable aviation

Cranfield Airport

Indoor air quality sensor deployment

We've started to deploy a number of low cost air quality sensors in buildings on campus. The sensors measure PM2.5, presssure, temperature and humidity.

See this page for live data from the two sensors we've deployed in B146.

Indoor air quality sensor

3D laser scanner

Thanks to UKCRIC DAFNI funding we now have a Leica 3D laser scanner. Over the coming months we're hoping to capture high resolution 3D data for key buildings and locations around the campus to support a number of research projects. The photo illustrates the type of data collected, in this case inside the glasshouse on campus.

See this page for technical details of the laser scanner.

LiDAR scan of glasshouse

New campus decarbonisation project

The University has recently committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. A target to reduce carbon emission by 50% from a 2005 baseline by July 2021 was set in 2009. To the end of July 2020 emissions had been reduced by 43%.

A strategy reducing reliance on gas, improving electricity capacity and minimising carbon emissions is underway. A £5m Public Sector Decarbonisation Strategy Grant (PSDS) will address key obstacles to decarbonising a campus built around ageing former RAF infrastructure, including:

  1. Reducing heat demand through improved district heating.
  2. Reducing Heat Demand through improved Building Management Systems (BMS).
  3. Switching away from Gas - Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP).
  4. Switching away from Oil - Connection of oil heated buildings to the district heating.
  5. Reducing electricity demand - LED Lighting.
  6. Alternative forms of electricity generation - Solar PV - 40% expansion of existing solar farm to 1.4 MW.
  7. Battery storage – balancing solar output with variable demand (e.g. weekends, research infrastructure), demand balancing for ASHP and CHP output reductions.
Cranfield solar farm

Hedgehog friendly campus

In 2021, Cranfield University has officially signed up to become a 'Hedgehog Friendly Campus'

Hedgehogs are Britain’s most iconic mammal, but have declined by up to 50% since the year 2000. As of July 2020, they are officially listed as Vulnerable to Extinction on Britain’s IUCN Red List. There are many reasons for this drastic reduction in numbers, from environmental poisons, roads, litter, drowning and lack of food, water and connected habitat. Mostly, these threats are created by humans.

Hedgehog Friendly Campus thinks it’s time that universities took some control over this issue. Campuses cover large areas of often very suitable hedgehog habitat, and the things staff and students do with that habitat can make a big impact on local wildlife. They have built a toolkit full of best-practice actions we can work towards to make our campus a Hedgehog Friendly Campus. More information can be found here Hedgehog Friendly Campus - The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (

These actions include carrying out a campus wide hedgehog survey (to check for the presence of hedgehogs) using footprint tunnels, implementing actions such as creating hedgehog friendly habitat, and placing hedgehog houses and bug hotels. The toolkit also involves promotional activities such as fundraising, and awareness raising actions.

Students who volunteer for related hedgehog projects will be given a certificate and CV reference from Hedgehog Friendly Campus organisation.

A hedgehog survey was conducted on the 17th-21st May supported by 12 student volunteers over 5 days. This initial survey deployed 8x hedgehog footprint tracking tunnels across campus- each tunnel was placed at least 100m away from each other, and baited with cat food and painted with charcoal and vegetable oil solution (click for more information on how to prepare tunnels). Volunteers checked the tunnels first thing in the morning each day for animal prints and re-prepared the tunnels for the following night. The initial survey found evidence of hedgehogs present behind the CSA, near Feddon house, behind SOM building 111 and near the pre-school along Prince Phillip Avenue.

Student hedgehog survey

New sensor deployment area at DARTeC

The new Digital Aviation Research Technology Centre (DARTeC) building includes a new sensor deployment area, complete with mains power and networking. The platform has excellent take-off across the campus, airfield and surrounding area, and we are in the process of planning the deployment of weather and air quality sensors.

A huge thank you to Adrian Cole, of DARTeC, and Research England funding, for making this possible!

DARTeC tower.

NERC Covid Air Quality study

A team from Cranfield University are leading a rapid study of air quality throughout the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Arc. The study starts at a time when Covid-19 lockdown measures are being eased and the scientists are keen to understand the effect of increased human activity on air quality within the region.

Funding for the study, which is in place until December 2021, is being provided by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The Arc has been designated as a key area of economic activity by the UK Government, who see enormous potential for growth in the region. One of the ambitions of the Arc, as set out by Government and local partners, is for any growth in the region to have a neutral or even positive gain on the environment. The Cranfield study will be key in understanding how development within the Arc impacts air quality.

The study is using the Urban Observatory's pool of air quality sensors, which have been deployed across the Ox-Cam Arc.

More information can be found here.

Air quality sensor. Image credit: C.Walton

Having a clock in your shower could help to reduce water consumption

Findings from a small preliminary study with residents of the Cranfield University campus have shown that shower times are significantly shorter when showers are fitted with time displays.

Various forms of University accommodation were fitted with Aguardio sensors that automatically – and unobtrusively – measure shower duration, as well as feedback units that display shower times.

Results from the first four months of the research, which began in October last year, found that residences with display units had showers that were around 20 to 30 per cent shorter (on average) compared to those with sensors only; a saving of roughly two minutes per shower.

More information can be found here.

This research featured in a Sunday Times article - 10 ways to be greener in your bathroom.

Shower sensor. Image credit: H.Smith

Urban Observatory research finds bats time-share with hunting patterns

One of the first projects to be completed using sensors that form part of the Cranfield Urban Observatory has shown that different species of bat appear to time-share with their hunting patterns.

Ultrasonic acoustic sensors were placed around the Cranfield University campus and listened for the hunting calls of different species of bat. Around 22,500 five-second snapshot recordings were made over several nights in August and then computer algorithms were used to filter and sort the sounds.

Time stamps from the recordings show that different species came out to hunt at different times in the night and seemed to suggest that certain species prefer to hunt in particular habitats, such as in hedgerows or around buildings.

Junfei Liu, who has just completed the research as part of his Geographical Information Management MSc thesis project, said: “We used ultrasonic microphones set to turn on at dusk to pick up the sounds of the bats. Around six different species were recorded – including some that are less common – and there appears to be a pattern to when the different types are hunting.

"There could be a number of reasons for this," added Junfei. "It could be that they don’t like to hunt at the same time or be too close to one another. More data from a wider variety of locations is also needed – with machine learning there is always potential for the software to allocate sounds to the wrong kinds of bats."

Further testing with the sensors is now underway and a permanent network will be established as part of the Urban Observatory, including acoustic sensors across Cranfield Airport’s airfield. These could be used to monitor bird songs, for example, and assess the impact of aircraft noise on wildlife.

More information can be found here.

Raspberry Pi.

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