Wednesday, 28th September, 2011

A lottery funded research programme conducted by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has revealed worm-friendly land management has a significant role in mitigating climate change. The four year study revealed soil with plenty of earthworm tunnels can absorb water at a rate of four to ten times that of fields without worm tunnels and retains the water better in times of drought.

The GWCT said, following the study conducted on its research farm at Loddington, Leicestershire, 40 per cent of farmers now recognise the signs of climate change and are ready to respond.
 
Dr Chris Stoate, a GWCT head of research, explained the impact of the study in developing drought and flood resistant techniques, "Our research shows that farmers can make a huge difference in helping to mitigate the effects of climate change.
 
"When fields are not ploughed the soil condition is improved naturally by the tunnelling of earthworms, which absorb water at a rate of four to ten times that of fields without worm tunnels.   This in turn helps the soil to take up water during storms and retain it during drought.  It also helped to buffer our stream from flooding during heavy rain."
 
One of the researchers’ key recommendations for farmers is to cut back on traditional ploughing in favour of minimum tillage in order to harness the natural army of eco-friendly microbes and earthworms that inhabit the soil.  This improves the capacity of the soil to take up water during storms and retain it during drought.
 
GWCT supports introduction of a ‘water footprint’
 
The study involved the whole stream catchment surrounding the GWCT’s Allerton Project farm. Based on the information gathered from the area, the researchers came to the conclusion that a ‘water footprint,’ akin to the popular concept of ‘carbon footprints’ could be adopted to prevent fresh water being taken for granted. Recent research from the EU revealed that crop production, mostly of staple grains, accounts for an estimated 85 per cent of the world’s fresh water use.
 
Dr Stoate outlined the concept, "In the 1930s each person used about 15 litres of water per day.  Today, we each use about 150 litres of water per day.  This amounts to about 55kg of CO2 per person over the course of the year.  Large additional amounts of water are used to produce food and other goods in this country and abroad, and the concept of a water footprint as a basis for a labelling system, was met positively by people living in the catchment that were involved in our study.  This was mainly as it raised awareness about water consumption and the threat that this posed."
 
The trust aims to roll out its research scheme into the catchment area used as a community project. The scheme has been applauded by farming minister Jim Paice, who said, "As this study highlights, if we use and manage our natural assets in a sustainable way they will continue to meet not only our needs such as for energy, sustenance, fresh water and fertile soils, but the needs of future generation."