The unsung heroes of agriculture
There are fewer and fewer worms living underground in farm lands in Groningen and Drenthe. Red earthworms are disappearing at an alarming rate, possibly due to over-fertilisation: the Netherlands is currently going through a serious nitrogen crisis, with excess nitrogen in soil threatening the ecological balance of the country.
But the fact that there are fewer worms is also bad for the country, and particularly for avian wildlife, says a researcher from Assen, as reported by RTV Drenthe.
The red earthworm is not doing well, and this species in particular is becoming less common on farmland. According to researcher Jeroen Onrust from Assen, that is a major loss: “it is precisely red worms that are important for soil fertility”, he says.
According to Onrust, the disappearance of the red earthworm has to do with intensive land management. “Gray worms can handle soil disturbance, for example, but red worms find that difficult.”
Red worms come to the surface at night and bring organic material back into the soil. “They take good care of the soil structure. If you lose the red worm, you have to do more and more to maintain soil fertility, for example, by using fertiliser and plowing,” Onrust explains.
But Onrust emphasises that farmers can also take a step back and let the worms do their work. “The worm is actually the farmer’s best servant. They can make the soil much more resilient.”