With the world shut down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
I've been doing a lot of gardening of late and from the seemingly constant sound of strimmers, lawnmowers and chainsaws that I can hear at weekends it seems plenty of other people are gardening too. I just hope other people's weird obsession with keeping their gardens 'neat and tidy' isn't having too much of an effect on our neighbourhood's wildlife. Any fool can plant begonias in a straight line, trim a hedge or push a lawnmower over a manicured lawn. But it takes real talent, real passion and real skill to allow a small corner of your garden to grow wild, plant nectar-rich flowers or create a garden pond.
(I've been digging some vegetable patches next to the Grass Snake manure heap)
I've been rather pleased with the wildlife-friendly garden improvements I've made so far during the lockdown, but it’s time to face the facts. We can spend all day planting and pruning, weeding and seeding, grunting and groaning in our gardens, but it's not us gardeners who are the ones who are doing the hard work. The real toil is in the soil – the engine room of the garden. Because down there, beneath our wellies, earthworms are wriggling, recycling and reincarnating our gardens.
I took a long look into the dark depths of my compost bin the other day. There's a multitude of worms in there, all hard at work.
The dark red worms in your compost bin are likely to be Brandling Worms Eisenia fetida.
Worms are so easily taken for granted. I mean, an earthworm isn’t much to look at. A tube made of muscles with a mouth at one end and a bum at the other but he and she (they’re hermaphrodites) is responsible for making your garden grow. These burrowing beauties really mix up the mud. Some drag dead leaves deep underground while their wormcasts return essential minerals back to the surface. This improves soil structure and their tiny tunnels help with drainage and allow aeration.
Cleopatra declared them to be sacred and Aristotle called earthworms ‘the intestines of the soil’. Indeed, at some point every bit of your garden would have passed through a worm’s belly. They munch their way through dead organic matter and make it available to even smaller decomposers - fungi and bacteria - who break it down even further. The nutrients released are reabsorbed by our plants. What once was dead is returned to the living. It’s one of those ‘circle of life’ things.
I photographed this one while sorting out the vegetable beds. Looking at my worm idenification guide I reckon the worm above is a Green Worm Allolobophora chlorotica because it has a yellow ring between the 'saddle' and the head (it took me 5 minutes to work out which end was which).
There could be up to 2 million worms working underground in an area the size of a football pitch. Earthworms are part of a wildlife workforce that lives in your garden and provides an essential service for free. Birds, bees, beetles, fungi, hoverflies, woodlice and many others volunteer for us as pollinators, pest controllers, decomposers and recyclers.
All we need to do is give them a home and leave them to it and they’ll get on with the dirty work. But it’s the earthworm who’s really the kingpin of the whole operation.
“It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world as these lowly organised creatures”.
Charles Darwin said that – and I aint going to argue with him. We just can’t live without them. So today I'd though I'd write this diary entry to pay earthworms some respect and attention.
Because when I'm dead and buried, they’ll be paying a whole lot of attention to me.
You can read more about the wonderful world of the worm at The Earthworm Society of Britain's website here.