MONTHLY COLUMN: Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Earthworms make up an important part of a hedgehog's diet.
Earthworms make up an important part of a hedgehog's diet.
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This month Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Rachel Shaw writes about worms.

Have you ever been digging in your garden and seen a robin following you? They hop about on the freshly turned soil as if they want to help. What they are actually doing is looking for food; for invertebrates that have been brought to the surface.

Earthworms are engineers in the soil. They help oxygen and water to flow through the soil by creating burrows. They also break down and recycle decaying plants.

Earthworms are engineers in the soil. They help oxygen and water to flow through the soil by creating burrows. They also break down and recycle decaying plants.

A whole range of creatures live in our soil. Along with the slugs and snails, there are tiny springtails and other microscopic creatures. But perhaps the most well-known of all soil-dwellers is the earthworm.

It’s easy to overlook the humble earthworm but they are essential to life. Not only do earthworms spend their lives in the soil beneath our feet, they help create it and keep it healthy. Charles Darwin thought few other animals played so important a part in the history of the world.

Earthworms are engineers. They specialise in moving through the soil, creating networks of burrows and mixing the earth. This means oxygen and water can flow through the soil, allowing water to drain away after heavy rain. They also break down and recycle decaying plants.

This releases nutrients; increasing soil fertility and helping plants grow. Amazingly a single earthworm can eat its own weight in soil a day!

The early bird catches the worm. A robin keeps an eye out for breakfast.

The early bird catches the worm. A robin keeps an eye out for breakfast.

If that wasn’t enough, earthworms are also an important part of food chains. Many other animals rely on them as part of their diet. Robins, blackbirds, toads, frogs, moles, hedgehogs and many others eat worms. And these animals eat other invertebrates too, helping keep unwanted pests at bay in the garden.

Sadly, artificial turf and excess paving is pushing worms and wildlife out of gardens. More than half of the total surface area of the UK’s front gardens is hard surfacing. By reducing the amount of paving we can help worms and wildlife, and ourselves. Looking at plants rather than concrete is known to make us happier. Not only that, borders and lawns also soak up the rain and help reduce flood risk.

If you’re planning your garden for the spring and summer ahead, remember to welcome the worms and let the soil breathe.

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