Soil health pilot study in England: Outcomes from an on-farm earthworm survey

Jacqueline L. Stroud*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Earthworms are primary candidates for national soil health monitoring as they are ecosystem engineers that benefit both food production and ecosystem services associated with soil security. Supporting farmers to monitor soil health could help to achieve the policy aspiration of sustainable soils by 2030 in England; however, little is known about how to overcome participation barriers, appropriate methodologies (practical, cost-effective, usefulness) or training needs. This paper presents the results from a pilot #60minworms study which mobilised farmers to assess over >1300 ha farmland soils in spring 2018. The results interpretation framework is based on the presence of earthworms from each of the three ecological groups at each observation (20 x 20 cm x 20 cm pit) and spatially across a field (10 soil pits). Results showed that most fields have basic earthworm presence and abundance, but 42% fields may be over-worked as indicated by absence/rarity of epigeic and/or anecic earthworms. Tillage had a negative impact (p < 0.05) on earthworm populations and organic matter management did not mitigate tillage impacts. In terms of farmer participation, Twitter and Farmers Weekly magazine were highly effective channels for recruitment. Direct feedback from participants included excellent scores in trust, value and satisfaction of the protocol (e.g. 100% would do the test again) and 57% would use their worm survey results to change their soil management practices. A key training need in terms of earthworm identification skills was reported. The trade-off between data quality, participation rates and fieldwork costs suggests there is potential to streamline the protocol further to #30minworms (5 pits), incurring farmer fieldwork costs of approximately £1.48 ha -1 . At national scales, £14 million pounds across 4.7 M ha -1 in fieldwork costs per survey could be saved by farmer participation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0203909
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume14
Issue number2
Early online date20 Feb 2019
DOIs
Publication statusFirst published - 20 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes

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