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Research GELIFES

How healthy is your soil? Measuring activity on soil quality, biodiversity, and the importance of earthworms

01 April 2022

In the weekend of 9 and 10 April, CurioUs? and UG researcher Jeroen Onrust will jointly organize an activity to measure the presence of worms in the environment. We all know how important earthworms are, and Jeroen will remind us of this fact in a mini-lecture on 4 April. However, we do not know how many worms are located where, and therefore how healthy the soil is. That is the question that Jeroen Onrust is trying to answer.

Jeroen Onrust


Earthworms do important work. They break down dead plant remains so that the nutrients can be used by other species. In turn, earthworms themselves serve as food for hedgehogs, moles, and birds. They thus play a major role in the food supply of both humans and animals. All the digging work that earthworms perform keeps the soil airy and healthy, and improves its ability to retain and drain water – which is particularly important now that climate change is causing increasing dry spells as well as heavy rainfall.

Measuring activity: counting worms

To gain more insight into the conditions of earthworms in the Netherlands, Jeroen Onrust and CurioUs? are jointly organizing a large-scale nationwide worm counting event. The results of the study will indicate how our earthworms are doing and how healthy the soil is. Participating is very simple: the only things each citizen scientist needs is a spade, a patch of soil, and no fear of getting their hands dirty. All results are subsequently placed on an interactive map in real time, so that everyone can see where and in which soil most earthworms can be found! Anyone who is interested can sign up for the activity via

Mini-lecture: How healthy is your soil?

We rarely pay a lot of attention to earthworms and their function in nature. Jeroen Onrust considers that a pity. His mini-lecture on Monday 4 April at the Forum Groningen will place the indispensable little creature in the spotlight and finally give it the attention it deserves. In addition, Hero Havenga de Poel, owner of the organic arable farm Landgoud, will talk about how important healthy soil is for his farm on the Wadden Sea dike.

Citizen science

Researchers such as Jeroen Onrust are driven by their interest in unexplored parts of their fields. However, they often need the help of others. One important tool is ‘citizen science’, a type of research in which curious volunteers and ‘DIY’ scientists help the researchers to gather data. Whereas one researcher would spend months counting worms, citizen science enables a wealth of data to be collected in a single weekend!

About CurioUs?

The mini lectures, together with the worm-counting activity, are a new project by CurioUs?, a partnership between Science LinX (Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Groningen), Forum Groningen and the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health, and aim to connect curious people to citizen science projects in the northern Netherlands. CurioUs? is supported by Google Data Centers Grants.

Last modified:08 April 2022 11.11 a.m.
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