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In 2022, Dr Andrew Hirons, Dr Nadina Galle, and The Mersey Forest, a growing network of woodlands and green spaces across North Cheshire and Merseyside in northwestern England, launched Bowie the Birch, an urban tweeting tree based in Liverpool, the heart of Mersey Forest.

Tweeting Tree in the Heart of Liverpool

Bowie the Birch uses emerging smart technologies to capture real-time datasets of soil conditions, tree growth, and sap flow to express a tree’s “experience” via the social media platform , Twitter .

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Dr Andrew Hirons holding a SoilMania sensor beside Bowie the Birch. Image source: SoilMania [photograph]. Retrieved 29 November, from https://tree.soilmania.com/en/producten-en-diensten/tweeting-tree-kit/

The public can follow the tree’s progress and communicate with the tree via Twitter’s retweet, reply, and direct message (DM) capabilities, with the aim to foster human-nature relationships and build support for tree-planting initiatives. The use of the social media platform can also provide insights into the most effective methods for using IoT sensors to engage citizens in arboriculture and science communication .

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Bowie the Birch with Dr Andrew Hirons. Image source: SoilMania [photograph]. Retrieved 29 November, from https://tree.soilmania.com/en/producten-en-diensten/tweeting-tree-kit/

Bowie the Birch brings a novel approach to the growing network of tweeting trees, firstly as an urban tree and secondly through the project's focus on soil conditions. Maintaining healthy soil in urban environments has become increasingly important and is often overlooked as an undervalued urban resource. Ecological engineer Nadina Galle attests that happy soil = happy trees , but it’s critical to understand what’s going on underground.

Bowie is fitted with state-of-the- art soil sensors made by SoilMania, providing real-time data for soil temperature, moisture, nutrients, and acidity, which can be tracked online. SoilMania has developed a Tweeting Tree Kit, which comes with sensors, social media and platform services. As Nadina describes it, “Bowie the Birch is like a digital Lorax" – the main character in a well-known children's book by Dr. Seuss – "speaking, or rather tweeting, for the trees.”

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