Updated: Jan 20
Under the ground where the earth was firm
There lived a wiggly wriggly worm
Good morning I said
How are you today?
But the wiggly worm just wriggled away.
Like many kids I loved grubbing around in the garden looking for bugs. Some bugs and beasties get more than their fair share of attention. Who doesn't love a ladybird or a butterfly while many others are left in the mud overlooked. Since running forest school sessions I have become increasingly enamoured with the humble earthworm. A few years ago we contributed to a citizen science earthworm survey and it opened my eyes to how great worms really are. Charles Darwin calculated an acre of soil to have 50 000 worms in it which can move 20 tons of soil in a year.
Our children love finding worms. It's always a source of joy to be digging around and come across one. In the winter we often manifest a few lovely specimens while we are stamping about for song time. The Grand Old Duke Of York is a particularly reliable tune to get the worms curious. It's always the children who spot them first. Cleopatra also understood how important the worms were to the Nile Valley. She declared them sacred. Any harm done to a worm was punishable by death. We are much more relaxed about this at forest school. We do have the occasional mishap but they are tough creatures. Even if they are cut in two one half will survive.
For our children these early encounters are magical. It is a joy to share their fascination and curiosity. One of our children recently decided to read Superworm to the super wriggly worm he unearthed. Worm charming is a truly universal activity for all ages. We have had many an improvised routine to get them to visit us on the surface.
Worms do a great job tidying up. We look at the autumn leaves on the floor and imagine the worms coming along at night to pull them underground. Up to 50 types of bacteria thrive inside an earthworm. It is this bacteria that enables plants to grow. The bacteria breaks down compounds in the soil making it available for the plants to use. Recent discoveries have also found the worms can decontaminate mining and industrial sites. They are ecosystem engineers. Their burrows help retain moisture as well as improving drainage.
My favourite thing with the older children is to get them to put some mud on their nose and then tell them it's worm poo. Every crumb of soil that we stand on in the woods will have passed through the body of a worm. The longest worm in the world is the African giant earthworm at 6.7 metres long. We have found some long ones but nothing like that!
Next time it rains don't dismay. Put your wellies on and find a patch of ground. Sing your top tune to charm a worm and give it your best fancy footwork, Strictly Come Dancing forest style. Have a look for the thick band, the saddle. That will tell you it's an adult. See how long it is. What colour is it on the tip? Does it have a paddle shaped tail? Just have a good look at this simple creature and marvel at what it does for us. You can even make your own wormery.
Once you have collected your specimens to examine here are some resources to help you work out what you have found - Earthworm ID.
If you want to find out more about how great worms are then have a look at Isabella Tree's book Wilding - Chaper 16, Rewilding the Soil. It's a fantastic book. She has also been on Desert Island Discs recently too.