Earthworms are widely known to be vital for a host of ecosystem services. They improve soil structure, facilitating better drainage and aeration of the soil. They recycle nutrients from decaying plant material and animal waste (including human food and garden waste) back into the soil and are essential for agriculture. They are also a staple food source for many of our most-loved vertebrate species: hedgehogs, badgers, birds, frogs and even foxes!
However, despite being the farmer and gardener’s best friend, we know relatively little about these soft-bodied organisms. It wasn’t until 2014 that the biological recording community really decided it was time to take recording our earthworms more seriously.
There are 29 species known to inhabit Great Britain (and 2 extra species in Ireland), but important details such as distribution and habitat preference are still unknown. Do any of our earthworm species need protecting? How do we conserve them if they do? These are questions that we still can’t answer, and only by starting to record earthworms can we even begin to think of what the answers may be.
One of the reasons earthworms have been forgotten, is that they require the observation of preserved specimens in order to identify the species. However, once under a microscope, earthworms are not a difficult group to identify. They are usually relatively large in size and can be identified using a small number of external features, and with only 29 species to choose from a one-day training course can give people a good understanding of how to use the AIDGAP ‘Key to the Earthworms of the UK & Ireland’ and microscopes to confidently identify British earthworm species.
Please note that this course will involve the use of specimens that have been killed and preserved.
This course is heavily subsidised by the FSC BioLinks Project (funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund).
About the tutor
Keiron Brown first became interested in invertebrates during a field-based entomology module at university and went on to volunteer on soil biodiversity research projects at the Natural History Museum (London). This included sorting samples of invertebrates to order level and sampling invertebrates across the New Forest in Hampshire and the Malaysian rainforests of Borneo. This is also where his fascination with earthworms began.
After becoming an active member of the Earthworm Society of Britain (ESB), Keiron launched the National Earthworm Recording Scheme in 2014. He is the national verifier of all earthworm records, providing support to earthworm recorders, delivering earthworm identification training courses and producing the Earthworm Recorder’s Handbook (published in 2017).