ROTHAMSTED Research is seeking 100 volunteer farmers with an hour to spare to survey their fields and record earthworm populations this Spring.

Counting worms is not everyone’s idea of the start of Spring, but Rothamsted Research soil scientist Jackie Stroud is a worm-hugger and this week launched 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,” said Ms Stroud, 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,” she explained, saying that she was looking for 100 volunteer farmers who could complete the 60-minute job before the end of April, and could provide them with a four-page booklet that describes how to do the survey.

Ms Stroud announced her survey and its aims 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,” she said. “Decisions that are made above the ground influence the millions of earthworms that are engineering the soil ecosystem below the ground.”

She noted 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.”