Victoria J. Burton, Natural History Museum, London and Imperial College London
I investigate how soil and leaf-litter biodiversity – such as earthworms, insects and microbes – differs between land uses. I’ve been sampling soil invertebrates and microbes in different habitats and collating data from other researchers but am looking for more people to get involved with my research and become citizen scientists by taking part in Earthworm Watch.
Healthy soils don’t just grow food; they also recycle nutrients, filter drinking water and limit the dangerous effects of climate change by storing large amounts of carbon in the form of tiny fragments of plants, micro-organisms and animals. Earthworms are a key ingredient in healthy soils – they digest decaying organic material – improving soil fertility and locking in carbon – and their burrows create space for air and water. My colleagues and I at The Natural History Museum, London, Earthwatch (Europe) and the Earthworm Society of Britain, are carrying out research to better understand the relationships between earthworms, garden habitats and soils.
The Earthworm Watch survey involves digging a small hole in each of two different areas of your garden (or other green space you have permission to dig in) – for instance, you could compare a lawn with a vegetable bed. You then count the three main types of earthworms, and record a few properties of the soil. More than 150 surveys have been received so far and we are already starting to find out which garden habitats and soil type earthworms prefer (www.earthwormwatch.org/science-results). We would love to have more surveys as it’s important we get a good representation across the British Isles.
Earthworm Watch takes no more than an hour and no prior knowledge or experience is required; you can request a free survey pack, which tells you what you need to do at www.earthwormwatch.org.