Science - April 20, 2017

Worm-charming as a competitive sport

Roelof Kleis

On Thursday 20 April the orchard of the organic experimental and teaching farm at Droevendaal will host the first open Wageningen Worm-charming Championships. The participants will be teams of soil scientists and ecologists.

Photo: Wiki

The poetically named worm-charming has come over from England, where it has been a competitive ‘sport’ since 1980. The aim is for teams to comb an area of 3 by 3 metres and lure as many worms as possible above ground in half an hour by the only method allowed: vibrating the ground with a pitchfork.

The initiator and director of the competition is Professor of Soil Biochemistry Jan Willem van Groenigen. He hopes the competition will generate more interest in his subject area. Van Groenigen and his group do research on the link between worms and soil quality. There is a practical side to the competition too: Van Groenigen is looking for residents for his ‘worm hotel’ on the Bornsesteeg.

This hotel consists of 15 boxed-in plots of 3 by 3 metres. Van Groenigen wants to fill the ‘rooms’ of his hotel with all the species of worm found in the Netherlands. Once sorted, the harvest of the competition will be brought to the hotel, which serves as a store of live material for scientists who need worms for their research. Ten teams of scientists, most of them from Wageningen, will compete in the first championships. But this is not the real target group, says Van Groenigen. ‘Ultimately we are aiming at secondary school students, but we are starting a bit smaller this year to try out the concept.’