Are there 100 volunteer farmers with 60 minutes on their hands to survey their fields this Spring and record earthworm populations to provide a glimpse of the health of our soils?

  • 09
  • MAR
  • 2018

Counting worms is not everyone’s idea of why we’ve been waiting for Spring to start but Jackie Stroud is a worm-hugger and this weekend she launches an appeal for help from farmers to survey their fields for worms in her efforts to promote the earthworm as an indicator of national soil health.

“I believe that our soils could be better: better at supporting crop production; better at supporting native fauna; and better at supporting carbon storage,” says Stroud, a soil scientist at Rothamsted Research who has devised a test to match her convictions.

“I’ve called it the ‘60 min worms’ test because that’s the time it takes me to survey a field,” says Stroud. She has designed a four-page booklet that describes how to do the survey, and is looking for 100 volunteer farmers who could complete the 60-minute job before the end of April.

60 Min Worms  Credit: Jackie Stroud/Rothamsted ResearchThe booklet, "60 min worms", describes the survey, the three main types of worms and a traffic-light tracker of soil practices

Stroud announces her survey and its aims this weekend at the Eden Project, one of the 11 science and discovery centres across the UK where the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is launching its Operation Earth programme, which introduces environmental science to families.

“To unlock the potential of soils, better measurements are needed,” says Stroud, whose work is supported by NERC’s Soil Security Programme. “Decisions that are made above the ground influence the millions of earthworms that are engineering the soil ecosystem below the ground.”

Stroud notes how earthworms spend their entire lives eating, burrowing and breeding in soils, and are sensitive to pH, waterlogging, compaction, rotations, tillage and organic matter: “It’s easy to understand why earthworms are a candidate for indicator of national soil health.”

Jackie Stroud Credit: Rothamsted ResearchSoil scientist and worm-hugger, Jackie Stroud, is trying to show how earthworms are a natural indicator of soil health

The initiative comes in the wake of moves by Environment Secretary Michael Gove to make farmers more accountable for environmental stewardship, aired in a speech in January, “Farming for the next generation”, and endorsed in a speech last month, “A brighter future for farming”.

Stroud concludes: “Practically, the key is knowing what you have to make it the best that it can be.”

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.