The turn of the worm
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