The’surreal art’ of worm-charming – and why everyone should try it

May 10, 2024 | News

Worm charming might sound like an eccentric pastime, but scientists want everyone to have a go in the name of soil health

Spotted your neighbours dancing a jig on their front lawn recently? Fear not – their antics were all in the name of science, and in celebration of the humble earthworm. 

The Soil Association’s Worm Hunt is running throughout May, encouraging citizen scientists to record the results of ‘worm charming’ – dancing in their gardens, soaking the earth with water or using the vibrations to attract the wrigglers to the surface.  

The bizarre sport is enjoyed as far away as Texas, but for the Soil Association it has its serious side: the charity will use the findings to create a worm map of the UK, taking an abundance of worms as an indicator of soil health and thriving biodiversity. 

“It might sound wacky but dancing on the bare earth can help with science,” explained the organisation’s head of worms, Alex Burton. “Worm charming is fun and a little surreal, but scientists and farmers use worm counts to understand soil health.”  

Worms improve soil structure, help clean up contamination and boost availability of nutrients, but studies suggest that populations have declined by a third over the past 25 years.  

Said Burton: “The data we get for the worm map will help us build a better understanding of the health of soils in gardens, allotments and green spaces across the UK. This will show where they need help to restore their numbers.” 

Ben Raskin, the Soil Association’s head of horticulture and agroforestry, is charmed by a wriggly ally. Image: Lizzie Goldsack

The Soil Association is teaming up with the renowned Falmouth Worm Charming Championships on the project. With prizes awarded for the most worms charmed and the most creative charming methods, the team has built a place to respectfully engage with the world under our feet, and will be collecting data for the worm map. 

Contest organiser and worm judge Georgia Gendall added: “Everyone has a part to play in helping nature and it’s great to see people so excited about worms. We want to use that energy to develop long-term success with the worm map.”

This charming worm: three types to look out for 

The free guide will help people identify common types of worm  

1. The common red worm - the classic earthworm lives in soil close to the surface, above ground in leaf litter or under dead wood. They’re a red-brown colour and 1-7cm long.  

2. Blue-grey worms – a paler species, they’re 2-12cm long and live underground, where they burrow horizontally.  

3. The European nightcrawler lives deeper in the soil – so it’s a rare treat when it emerges. Darker in colour, they can grow to 15-25cm and produce piles of ‘worm poo’ on the surface of the soil. 

Main image: Falmouth Worm Charming Championship 2021. Credit:  Dom Moore

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