Soil Association: Become a 'worm charmer' in your own garden - to help experts create UK worm map

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It might sound wacky, but dancing in your garden can help scientists to help worms.

A UK environmental charity is asking you to break out your dancing shoes in the garden this month.

The Soil Association is running a month-long ‘worm hunt’ throughout May - and wants to get people dancing on the soil, soaking the earth with water, and using the power of vibrations to attract worms to the surface. The charity then wants you to count them so it can create a UK-wide ‘worm map’ - showing where our healthiest and most biodiverse soils are.

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Most green-fingered Brits know that earthworms are important to soil health, and seeing them in the garden is a good sign. On top of making it more fertile by breaking down decaying plant matter, worms also help bind soil together with a sticky mucus, improving its structure and helping water drain more effectively. This soil is up to 90% more effective at soaking up water, the Association says, which helps prevent flooding. 

But like much of the wildlife across the British Isles, helpful worms are in trouble. One recent study found that earthworm populations have fallen by a third over the past 25 years. The Soil Association’s head of worms, Alex Burton, says this count is the first part of a much-needed push to restore their numbers. 

Earthworms are a gardener's best friend, but they're in trouble (Photo: Soil Association/Supplied)Earthworms are a gardener's best friend, but they're in trouble (Photo: Soil Association/Supplied)
Earthworms are a gardener's best friend, but they're in trouble (Photo: Soil Association/Supplied)

“It might sound wacky, but dancing on the bare earth can help with science. Worm charming is fun and a little surreal, but scientists and farmers use worm counts to understand soil health,” he said. “We depend on soils for 95% of our food production, and they hold more carbon than the atmosphere, so it is crucial for us to know what’s going on under the ground and worms help to tell us that. “

The data we get for the worm map will help us build a better understanding of the health of soils in gardens, allotments and green spaces across the UK, he continued, which will help show which areas need to be prioritised to help restore worm numbers. “We’re calling for people to become citizen scientists for our valuable pals, and if they don’t find as many as they were expecting, we have plenty of advice to help them improve the soil... From Falmouth to Falkirk, we’re excited to celebrate worms and learn more about their work from the ground up.” 

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How to ‘charm’ worms and be counted

The Soil Association’s study needs to collect findings from as many places as possible, recording the number and type of worms found. Searching for worms can take as little as half an hour, and only requires a small patch of land - so hunts can take place in gardens, farms or local parks, and can even get the kids involved.

First up, you should register online here are download the Association’s  Worm Hunt Guide. This will give you ‘charming’ tips and methods, as well as helping you identify what type of helpful worms you’re seeing - from common red worms to more elusive European nightcrawlers.

You can take part and log your findings any time this month, until 31 May. You can even share your wormy discoveries on social media - using #WormHunt, and tag @soilassociation so its worm team can admire your discoveries.

Another option is to join a worm-charming contest to learn more and have a go - with a little more in-person guidance. To support the study, the Soil Association has partnered with the Falmouth Worm Charming Championships this year. Contestants are in to win prizes for everything from most worms charmed to most creative charming methods, and the data will be collected for the worm map.

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“Worms are our colleagues – whether I’m farming or working as a gardener or artist, they’ve always been part of my work,” Organiser Georgia Gendall said. “We had over 1,000 attendees last year to the intergenerational event, including kids coming in with their parents and grandparents, students and teenagers.”

The event has Worm Welfare Wardens, who make sure the wriggly critters are kept safe and returned to their homes, she added. “Everyone has a part to play in helping nature and it’s great to see people so excited about worms. We want to use that energy to develop long-term success with the worm map.” 

The Falmouth Worm Charming Championship takes place on Sunday, 19 May. For more information, visit the ticket link here

Amber Allott is NationalWorld’s environment and sustainability specialist, covering all things green - from climate to conservation. If you liked this article you can follow Amber on X (Twitter) here and sign up for the free daily NationalWorld Today newsletter here - with Amber bringing you the UK's most important, pressing, weird and wonderful environmental stories every Tuesday.

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