Over one year into my PhD now, and I had been hoping to blog a little reflection on this but things have been rather hectic! Instead here is a look back to some more earthworm fieldwork I volunteered on in November 2013, digging holes in Somerset and Berkshire.
For eight days in November I returned for more earthworm survey work with the Natural History Museum Soil Biodiversity Group, this time in Somerset and Berkshire. A small team of volunteers this time, just myself and long-time SBG volunteer Irfaan, travelled first to the Somerset site to continue work started the previous week. We had been informed the Somerset site was the most beautiful yet but when we arrived on Monday the fog was so thick we had to take David’s word for it! Thankfully, by Tuesday the sun had returned to reveal a superb landscape, the countryside you imagine from hundreds of years ago, with little patchwork fields fringed with ancient hedgerows.
What a difference a day makes in Somerset
Four fields are sampled per farm, covering a spectrum of management intensity, such as how often the field is grazed, how much fertiliser (animal or artificial) is added and whether it has been ploughed or used for crops in the past. The field we worked first was the lowest intensity field at the Somerset site, not surprisingly as it was some distance from the nearest track, was steep and had springs running through it. This field had never been ploughed, giving an odd feeling of being possibly the first people to disturb the soil. It also had the biggest Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus) mounds I have ever seen!
Horse battered Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus) mound, at least two foot tall
Digging and coring in Somerset, quite possibly the first time the soil has been broken by man!
Shire Horses in Somerset
Dipterological distraction: Noon Fly (Mesembrina meridiana) in Somerset (thanks to Georgie for this photograph from the previous week’s visit)
If he had fallen over I could have bagged £300 pounds!
Once the location is marked with a flag it’s time to start over again taking measurements, digging a pit, taking samples and hunting for worms!
Irfaan and I intently sorting soil for worms
Blue-grey worm (Octolasion cyaneum)
On Thursday we left Somerset for Berkshire, unfortunately still with a field left to finish. The site in Berkshire was the Organic Research Centre Elm Farm.
Excitingly the very first pit had a bumper crop of the UK’s largest earthworm – Lumbricus terrestris emerge when the mustard solution was added, some were bigger than by baby snakes at home! Could this be because of higher organic inputs in this field than Somerset? The statistics will tell us in time (hopefully!).
Lumbricus terrestris expelled by mustard solution