Earthworms – our underrated, underground allies

by Alice Ashcroft, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust 

Earthworms are our underground allies, unsung heroes of the natural world and silent saviours of the soil. Don’t be fooled by their uninspiring appearance; worms are one of the biggest cogs in the ever-churning eco-machine that keeps the world turning. Charles Darwin considered them the most important animal in the history of the world.

Worms are nature’s ploughs, plumbers, engineers and gardeners. They tunnel through the earth, turning, recycling and enriching the soil as they go, enabling plants – the basis of all terrestrial life – to grow. The narrow passageways they create allow oxygen and water to flow through the soil, so after heavy rainfall excess water can drain away. They also break down and recycle decaying plants, releasing vital nutrients for soil microorganisms and fungi.

As well as being one of the most supremely expedient creatures on the planet, worms are simply fascinating in and of themselves. They absorb oxygen through their skin, are capable of eating their own weight in soil in a single day and, remarkably, they perform all their useful functions without the benefit of eyes! Instead of seeing, worms find their way using vibrations in the soil to guide them.

In sum, earthworms are essential to life, multi-talented and spectacularly underrated, which is why they are slithering into the spotlight for this year’s Wild About Gardens challenge from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and The Wildlife Trusts.

This year we’re asking people to help worms and watch their garden flourish from the ground up by creating compost heaps, feeding the soil and reducing hard surfacing like paving.  There are lots of things you can do to help the humble worm, and in doing so you’ll be helping a myriad of other species too – toads, birds, beetles, shrews, badgers and many other animals rely on worms as a source of food.

Here are some things you can do at home to help our wonderful, wiggly worms.

  • Reduce waste, recycle veg peelings and create a compost heap
  • Feed your garden with compost and organic fertilisers
  • Attract hedgehogs, beetles and centipedes to your garden to control pests
  • Dig up your paving – let the earth breathe and plants grow

Find more wormy inspiration and information at www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk.

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