Fabulous Beasties of the Soil – An Urban SOS
By Josie Bennett

When people think about creatures that live underground, they picture hordes of creepy-crawlies that make them recoil in revulsion. However, what they don’t consider is a community of beings from fungi to the humble badger all coexisting and relying upon one another within an incredibly intricate food chain.

Imagine our country’s beloved hedgehogs exploring our parks late at night. Rootling around for the juiciest worms they can chow down on like late night clubbers in search of an open kebab shop. Except, their scrumptious worms are not there or are difficult to come by! What could be causing this? 

Enter the pesticides that are harming worms and other small critters! The glyphosate herbicides that the Birmingham City Council are still using on their pavements is a leading cause of reduced earthworm populations and activity by leaching into our soils. I know not many people think about worms, but they’re incredibly important beasties. Their tunnelling helps plant growth by improving water drainage, soil structure and providing vital nutrients which in turn feeds animals like rabbits and hares. Worms are also an abundant food source for a huge number of British animals like birds, hedgehogs, badgers, foxes and more! 

Consider even smaller beasties like springtails, soil mites, and ants. I like to think of them as nature’s underground waste managers, they eat away at rotting plants and even each other whilst also helping air out the soil on a much smaller level whilst leaving behind helpful nutrients. 

Even microscopic things like fungi and microbes are beneficial to Birmingham’s ecosystem. For example, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (try saying that quickly ten times on a night out) can be found growing along plant roots. You may think this is bad, but whilst this fungus benefits from growing on a plant’s roots it also helps maintain and improve plant health by preventing illness, aiding root stability, and helping plants produce growth hormones. Without this fungus, it is found that plants don’t grow as well and are more likely to wither away leading to even less food for our more beloved critters. 

Now picture all of these beings as cogs in a complex yet vital machine that we all depend upon for our survival.
You may even be thinking to yourself ‘Oh who cares if some gross bugs and fungus die because of some weedkiller spray? Good riddance I say!’. But if you remove even the tiniest cog representing plant root fungus, it has a huge knock-on effect for our ecosystem and the world, our vital machine, our very world begins to fall apart. If plants are less likely to grow, well, that means there’s less food for those soil mites, pollinators and earthworms who will then decrease in number too, this then provides less food for our already struggling hedgehogs, endangered birds, and badgers. It’s a cycle of doom and gloom, with less plants and pollinators us humans will also suffer from fewer crops and fewer natural sights to bring us delight. 

So, what are you waiting for? Tell Birmingham City Council to stop using pesticides and save our soil! If 48 other areas in the UK have been banning them since 2015, why can’t we?