Get grubby in the name of science

20 Mar 2009 12:07:00.000

Members of the public are being asked to roll up their sleeves and get grubby in the name of crucial environmental research.

A national study into soil and earthworms has been launched as part of the Open Air Laboratories project (OPAL), and The University of Nottingham is looking to get volunteers from across the East Midlands involved. OPAL has received a grant from the Big Lottery Fund to inspire the next generation of nature lovers.

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Earthworms are extremely important and play a vital role in recycling plant nutrients and aerating the soil. But we need to build up our understanding of the soil types they live in and their distribution across the country. By taking part in the survey, volunteers will help to create the first national record.


Armed with mustard, vinegar and PH strips available from any garden centre, volunteers can measure soil hardness, acidity and drainage, as well as logging the amount and type of earthworms found on their chosen site. All sites are relevant, from back gardens to open spaces — just make sure you’ve got the permission of the landowner and that it’s safe to dig there.


Results are then entered online. All results will then be available to view on a national soil and earthworm map.


Dr Amy Rogers, Community Scientist in the University’s School of Biology, is leading the East Midlands survey. She will be working with local schools and community groups to get them involved in collecting this important information.


‘There are 26 different species of earthworms in England and they are vital to the health of our soils, yet surprisingly little is known about population sizes or distribution,” said Dr Rogers. “Scientists are keen to build up the first map of soil quality and earthworm distribution across England. Anyone can take part in the survey and any green space is suitable. You don’t need any specialist knowledge or equipment. All the instructions you need to take part can be downloaded free of charge from our website. Most of the items you need are readily available around the home.”


The survey will be launched on Tuesday 24 March at Ecoworks, a community garden project based at the St Ann’s allotments in Nottingham.


A public survey event will then take place at Colwick Woods on Sunday 29 March from 10 to 12noon. The earthworm search and soil survey will take place will be behind the children's playground on Greenwood Road, directly opposite the junction with Ripon Road. To get there via public transport take the no24 bus from King Street in Nottingham city centre, alighting at the Greenwood Road junction with Harrogate Road.


For more information on how to take part in the survey visit


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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.


Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) is a new nation-wide partnership initiative that will inspire communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local environments. It aims to create a new generation of nature-lovers by stimulating interest through local and national projects which are accessible, fun and relevant to anyone who wants to take part. The Big Lottery Fund’s Changing Spaces programme was launched in November 2005 to help communities enjoy and improve their local environments. The programme funds a range of activities from local food schemes and farmers markets, to education projects teaching people about the environment. Imperial College London (the leading OPAL partner) was awarded a £11,760,783 Changing Spaces grant in August 2007.


The Big Lottery Fund, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. It was established by Parliament on 1 December 2006. Full details of the work of the Big Lottery Fund, its programmes and awards are available on the website:




Volunteers will be digging for earthworms and measuring the soil at the Ecoworks community garden at the Hungerhill Gardens allotment site in St Ann’s, Nottingham on Tuesday 24 March from 1-2pm. This event is not open to the general public due to space restrictions.


Photographers are also welcome at the public survey event taking place at Colwick Woods on Sunday 29 March. Contact Dr Rogers for more information.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Amy Rogers on +44 (0)115 846 6742
Tara De Cozar

Tara De Cozar - Internal Communications Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8560 Location: University Park

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