Coun­try Mouse

The turn of the worm

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

LAST week’s blast of freez­ing weather sent many golden leaves fi­nally flut­ter­ing to earth. The trees have got the mes­sage: win­ter is upon us. Up and down the coun­try, gar­dener’s rakes scratch across lawns to make piles of leaves to form part of those gor­geous, damp, smoky bon­fires of Novem­ber.

Each ma­ture oak tree has about 200,000 leaves, but, ev­ery year, the leaves dis­ap­pear thanks to gar­den­ers and, par­tic­u­larly, the hum­ble earth­worm. If they didn’t, we would be buried in them.

The earth­worm has been es­ti­mated to be worth al­most £16 billion to Bri­tish agri­cul­ture thanks to the jobs it does in per­fo­rat­ing, loos­en­ing and fer­til­is­ing the soil. Aris­to­tle de­scribed them as ‘the in­testines of the soil’. Dar­win went fur­ther: ‘It may be doubted whether there are many other an­i­mals which have played so im­por­tant a role in the his­tory of the world.’

There are 25 species of earth­worm in Bri­tain, although it’s the large lob­worm that we are most fa­mil­iar with. Sadly, they are all now under at­tack from the alien, preda­tory New Zealand flat­worm. ‘The earth with­out worms,’ wrote Gil­bert White, ‘would soon be­come cold, hard­bound and con­se­quently ster­ile’. We would also have a moun­tain of leaves. MH

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