London: Believe it or not, the humble
earthworm has become the latest secret weapon in the war
against climate change.
A major four-year-old study has revealed that instead of
just wriggling around and providing food for birds, earthworms
-- have been burrowing their way through the ground for 300
million years -- can help prevent flooding and droughts.
The average worm weighs less than half an ounce but it is
able to eat through a third of its own weight in soil a day.
When worms tunnel the soil absorbs more water, meaning that in
their millions, worms can turn the ground into one vast sponge
soaking up water in floods but retaining it during dry spells.
Now, farmers can play a vital part in combating the
devastation caused by floods and droughts by encouraging
earthworms, according to the researchers.
"Our research shows that farmers can make a huge
difference in helping to mitigate the effects of climate
change. When fields are not ploughed, the soil condition is
improved naturally by the tunnelling of earthworms, which
absorb water at a rate of four to 10 times that of fields
which are without worm tunnels.
"This in turn helps the soil to take up water during
storms and to retain it during drought. It also helped to
buffer our stream from flooding during heavy rain," a newspaper quoted Dr Chris Stoate, head of research at
the society`s Allerton Project farm, as saying.
One of the key recommendations in the study is for
farmers to cut back on traditional ploughing to harness the
power of the army of the eco-friendly microbes and earthworms
that live in the soil.
This then increases the capacity of the ground to take up
water during storms and then to retain it during droughts.
The worm has proven to be one of nature`s great survivors
and also to be a vital player in the environment, breaking
down soil, recycling nutrients and being an important part of
the farmland food chain. Birds as varied as buzzards, owls,
and kestrels all feed on worms.
Some worms can live 10 years and although they have no
teeth, arms, eyes and legs they can move 27 feet per hour