What are the most important invertebrates in the world? You might think of bees, busy pollinating 1/3 of the plants we need for fruit and vegetables - but would you think of humble earthworms?
They are not the most glamorous group of animals, but they are certainly extremely important, with their value recognised as far back as ancient Egypt, when Queen Cleopatra valued their contribution to Egyptian agriculture and declared them to be sacred. Charles Darwin also recognised their value to the creation of healthy soils, and his little-known book; The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms published in 1881 was in fact his best-seller.
Soil is literally and metaphorically the foundation of life on Earth. Soil stores nearly twice as much carbon as all living plants and the atmosphere combined, and is therefore essential in lessening the effects of the climate crisis. Soil is the most biodiverse of all ecosystems, 1 tsp of garden soil contains thousands of species, millions of individuals and hundreds of metres of fungal networks - at least ¼ of species on planet Earth live in soils!
Earthworms are the guardian angels of healthy soils. They eat rotting leaves and other organic material, which they then poop out as little piles of soil treasure known as ‘castings’. Earthworm tunnels aerate the soil, bringing vital oxygen underground where plant roots can absorb it. Tunnels also decompact the soil so that plant roots have space to grow. The nutrients and oxygen needed for healthy soils is therefore provided by earthworms, which create a suitable environment for plants to grow, and so without healthy soil there would be no plants in the first place for bees to pollinate.
Earthworms and The Royal Parks
The Royal Parks make up around ¼ of the green space in London, covering 5,000 acres composed of lawns, meadows, flowerbeds, woodland and water bodies that all depend on healthy soil to support the amazing wildlife that lives in these habitats. That’s a lot of soil, and a lot of work for earthworms. The Royal Parks want to find out how our management techniques affect earthworm ecology, from the impact of compaction caused by footfall from our 72 million visitors - to the impact of our road closure trials which we hope will help reduce pollution in our parks.
That’s why we are recruiting volunteers to help research scientific hypotheses with our Excellent Earthworms project. Join our Mission: Invertebrate team to sample earthworms across our parks to explore this research, and help us find out more about our precious earthworms. We will be joined by our friend and earthworm expert Keiron Brown from the Field Studies Council who is the Recording Officer for the Earthworm Society of Britain. Keiron will help lead volunteers in sampling earthworms, and will run additional earthworm ID training sessions as well as ID days where volunteers can record the species of earthworms we find.
Excellent Earthworms phase 1 – Surveying the parks
We’re looking for volunteers to help us collect specimens for three studies. This will include undertaking soil pit sampling and collecting any adult earthworms found within the soil pits. Earthworms are only identifiable under a microscope so please note that this will involve killing the specimens that we collect by preserving them in tubes of ethanol. No experience is necessary as full training will be provided on the day and overseen by our earthworm specialist.
- Thu 2nd Sep: Central Parks - we will be focusing on path erosion and how this effects earthworm biodiversity.
- Thu 9th Sep: Greenwich - we will be focusing on sampling around roads, to understand how our road closure trials effects earthworm biodiversity.
- Thu 23rd Sep: Richmond - we will be focusing on sampling around veteran trees, to understand how creating fences to protect the trees from compaction effects earthworm biodiversity.
- Thu 30th Sep: The Regent's Park - we will be focusing on different habitat types, and how earthworm biodiversity varies according to habitat e.g. wildflower meadows, amenity grass, sports pitches or horticultural beds.
Excellent Earthworms phase 2 – Identifying the earthworms
The FSC will be hosting two 1-day Earthworm ID with Microscopes training courses at Bushy Park to train up absolute beginners on earthworm identification. These will be followed by three 1-day Earthworm Volunteer ID Days where those trained on the training courses will accompany experienced earthworm recorders in the lab to identify the specimens that we collected in phase 1 of the project. These courses and volunteer days can be booked directly through the FSC website.
Monday 18 October 2021 10:00 till 16:00
Earthworm ID With Microscopes Training Course 1 - Bushy Park Field Studies Council
Tuesday 19 October 2021 10:00 till 16:00
Earthworm ID With Microscopes Training Course 2 - Bushy Park Field Studies Council
Wednesday 20 October 2021 10:00 till 16:00
Earthworm Volunteer ID Day 1 - Bushy Park Field Studies Council
Thursday 21st October 10:00 - 16:00
Earthworm Volunteer ID Day 2 - Bushy Park Field Studies Council
Friday 22 October 2021 10:00 till 16;00
Earthworm Volunteer ID Day 3 - Bushy Park Field Studies Council