An ambitious six-week programme to map the earthworm population of the UK begins next week, building on the success of a pilot study earlier this year when about 100 farmers volunteered 60 minutes to survey their fields. This time, many more are being asked to give up 30 minutes.
The inaugural national farmland #30minworms survey runs from September 15 to October 31. It aims to help farmers to record their earthworm populations and to assess the effects of soil management, such as tillage and cover cropping, on soil health. Survey booklets can be downloaded here.
Jackie Stroud, NERC Soil Security Fellow at Rothamsted Research, who devised and leads the programme, says: “If you think of soil health, the best place to start is with the ecosystem engineers – earthworms.
“Working with farmers, we have redesigned farmland earthworm surveys – culminating in a 30-minute test that generates robust and reliable data about the earthworm community structure,” says Dr Stroud. “This information can be used to gauge soil health – what is working well, and where improvements could be made.”
Each test starts with the digging of five soil pits (20cm x 20cm x 20cm) across a field (in the shape of a W), then the earthworms are categorised and counted, and their data recorded for despatch to Dr Stroud.
She says: “Don’t worry if you don’t know your surface dwellers from your deep burrowers. Half the people who took part in the pilot survey were unconfident in their earthworm ID skills until they tried the online earthworm ID quiz, which comes with the booklet, before they headed for the fields.”