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.