Farm News  |   December 6, 2023

Biodiversity & Soil Health Update

Jamie Somerville gives an update on plans for biodiversity monitoring in 2024, and dives into detail on earthworms and soil microbiology…

We’ve got some exciting projects beginning in 2024. We’ll be gathering copious amounts of data relating to soil/crop/ecosystem health such as: microbe activity; soil water infiltration; leaf brix; and earthworm counts, plus doubling down on capturing wildlife footage, running soil workshops and hosting some university studies looking at mycorrhizal fungi in our agroforestry strips.


Why Earthworms?

Earthworms occupy a number of interesting roles in the ‘soilosphere’. Their tunnels acts as superhighways along which microorganisms and smaller invertebrates can travel (even hitchhiking on the worm’s body) to colonise new areas. Considering some soil dwelling species can only travel 10cm within their entire life under their own locomotion, it’s a much welcome service.

Earthworms can be useful indicators of overall soil health. Have a look in your garden, especially for the Anecic group, which are particularly sensitive to disturbance, so can be informative of a deep O horizon and structured soil. Anecic is an umbrella term for a number of species that live in permanent deep burrows (up to 2 meters) which, in some cases are held in the family estate until the parents die at which point it is passed to the offspring. Endogeic earthworms live closer to the surface and who’s spelunking is vital in restoring ‘degraded’ land, creating tunnels which connect atmosphere to substrate allowing for gas exchange. The main motivation for this exploring is the search for food – they are not in fact after decaying plant matter but hunting the microbes that feed on it. Earthworms are voracious predators! It goes without saying, the worms casts that are produced are rocket fuel for plants, full of amino acids, trace elements and abundant with microbes, especially protozoan.


Why soil microbiology?

By looking at the microbial population and calculating the biomass of nematodes, fungi, bacteria and protists we can get a proxy of how efficiently nutrient cycling is happening and if our soil is supportive or suppressive towards pathogens and chewing/sucking insects.

A plant be it oak or courgette relies on microbes to supply them with nutrients and defend them from attack. Think about our own gut, the science now suggests that auto immune diseases, our mood and cognition are linked to the diversity or lack of (gut dysbiosis) in our digestive system. This appears to be a universal law of nature – the greater the diversity of species the ‘healthier’ and more efficient a system.

Interestingly of the few thousand phylum of bacteria that exist, the 4 dominant phylum that exist around plant roots are also the dominant 4 phylum in our own gut. The interaction between chemical, biological and physical within the soil is overwhelming, time flies when viewing a 30 micro meter ( 0.03mm) through the microscope, a piece of organic matter that is for 100s of species their entire world, living, breathing, feeding, reproducing and dying within this tiny space. This aggregate has its own water cycle, is packed with mineral nutrients in organic and non organic form, holds an electrical charge and a pH which can alter dramatically from its surface to its core.

We’ll keep you updated with all our findings over the course of 2024!


Wildlife Webcams

Here’s a few wildlife highs from the north fields!

We have a couple of permanent grey herons who hang around the scrapes, regularly inspecting their own reflections and preening themselves on camera. However, despite their prima-donna tendencies, they are very effective ambush predators, with the patience of a saint. Here a heron has caught a field vole and is attempting to drown it? A little glimpse into the Pleistocene and the Phorusrhacidae that stalked these lands long ago:

Heron Eating Vole

It’s a little unusual to see an owl walking around on the ground – here we can see two individuals vying for territory:

Barn Owl chasing

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