Get grubby in the name of science

Get grubby in the name of science

Members of the public are being asked to roll up their sleeves and get grubby in the name of crucial environmental research.

A national study into soil and earthworms has been launched as part of the Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL), and The University of Nottingham is looking to get volunteers from across the East Midlands involved. OPAL has received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund to inspire the next generation of nature lovers.

Earthworms are extremely important and play a vital role in recycling plant nutrients and aerating the soil. But we need to build up our understanding of the soil types they live in and their distribution across the country. By taking part in the survey, volunteers will help to create the first national record.

Armed with mustard, vinegar and PH strips available from any garden centre, volunteers can measure soil hardness, acidity and drainage, as well as logging the amount and type of earthworms found on their chosen site. All sites are relevant, from back gardens to open spaces — just make sure you’ve got the permission of the landowner and that it’s safe to dig there.

Results are then entered online. All results will then be available to view on a national soil and earthworm map.

Dr Amy Rogers, Community Scientist in the University’s School of Biology, is leading the East Midlands survey. She will be working with local schools and community groups to get them involved in collecting this important information.

‘There are 26 different species of earthworms in England and they are vital to the health of our soils, yet surprisingly little is known about population sizes or distribution,” said Dr Rogers. “Scientists are keen to build up the first map of soil quality and earthworm distribution across England. Anyone can take part in the survey and any green space is suitable. You don’t need any specialist knowledge or equipment. All the instructions you need to take part can be downloaded free of charge from our website. Most of the items you need are readily available around the home.”

The survey will be launched on Tuesday 24 March at Ecoworks, a community garden project based at the St Ann’s allotments in Nottingham.

A public survey event will then take place at Colwick Woods on Sunday 29 March from 10 to 12noon. The earthworm search and soil survey will take place will be behind the children’s playground on Greenwood Road, directly opposite the junction with Ripon Road. To get there via public transport take the no24 bus from King Street in Nottingham city centre, alighting at the Greenwood Road junction with Harrogate Road.

For more information on how to take part in the survey visit

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