Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Barton Turf bio diversity event

Last Sunday I was telling at an annual environmental event run at Barton Turf in Norfolk by the Broads Authority and the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It's an event that promotes not only the bio diversity of the Norfolk broads, but also local crafts and voluntary organisations who are committed to protecting the environment and wildlife. And on the advice of a friend in heritage I also suggest that you check out http://www.commonground.org.uk/ which celebrates both the heritage, the environment and local custom, which fits in very well with the subject of this post and many others!

There was plenty going on for both adults and kids, from tours of Barton Broad upon a state of the art solar powered catamaran/boat thingy (I know very little about boats!) Also pond dipping, ringing birds, making bat boxes, making wildlife sculptures out of recycled materials and one of my favourites; dissecting owl pellets. After the initial "uuuurgh" by some kids and the realisation that they were not dealing with poo, boys, girls and the occasional adult like me were more than happy to prod and poke about in the pellets to find all sorts of small animal bones. When I was a kid, I found a shrew's jawbone in a pellet. I took it into school, only to find that Jason Hatch who had been to Africa with his really rich parents, had brought in an elephant tooth. They made a great contrast to each other and our teacher's obvious pleasure in the comparison between shrew jaw and elephant tooth went a good way to alleviating my feelings of inadequacy and it didn't put me off owl pellets.

Dissecting owl pellets
Click on image to make larger

All of these very worthwhile activities were great, but to be honest the one that really caught my attention was the worm charming. It was a competition to see who could 'charm' or more precisely lure worms to the surface in allotted two meter square sections. Adults and kids alike spent 45 minutes using their own individual and sometimes bizarre techniques to encourage the worms upwards. Although most involved some kind of rhythmic banging and thumping which as one veteran worm charmer told me are meant to sound like rain, which encourages worms to the surface so that they don't drown! I'm not sure about that one, but one thing was for certain, every one had their work cut out because it was very hot and the ground was baked hard. None the less the final winners did manage a very respectable 27 worms, although last year the more moist conditions resulted in a winning amount of 50 worms. That's over one a minuet!

Worm Charmers charming

That's impressive, but not the reason I enjoyed it so much. For me it was the fact that everyone got involved and that for once health and safety was not top of the agenda. Kids were swinging garden forks about like no bodies business. I watched one girl stabbing the ground very close to her dad's hand, whilst at the same time gazing over her shoulder to her mum. Her dad didn't notice for he was just far too busy gently drumming the ground with his fingers. A different approach to worm charming and one I think that deserved a mention, but alas far to subtle when all about were jumping up and down and beating the earth with bits of two by two!

Worm Charmers using the traditional fork method...

The other reason I enjoyed it was because it fits in well with many of the other events and activities I stumble upon, from the Town Crier competition, to black faced boarder Morris Dancers. I can't help feeling that only in England could you find such an unusual mix of the silly and bizarre. It's a fact made all the more apparent by the bus load of Chinese tourists to Barton who couldn't quite understand what was going on. They certainly enjoyed the spectacle, although one of the organisers who tried to explain what was happening got the distinct feeling that they thought the worms were going to be eaten!

A combination of fork and drumming techniques

Thanks to Holly and the rest of the team who kept me in cold drinks on what was a very hot day...


  1. There's much to be learned from Worms...
    Charles Darwin spent a great deal of time studying the habits of the worms in his garden, studies which contributed to his thoughts on the Theory of Evolution. And as everyone knew in times past, it's in the tender care of worms we one day all shall be. Good old Norfolk, land of worm charmers!

  2. I believe that thrushes 'drum' the ground , simulating rain, in order to 'charm' worms to the surface.

    A wonderful celebration of something which, you rightly say, is so quintessentially - and, in my view, wonderfully! - English. What with the most welcoming church in Norfolk, and an activated community, Barton Turf certainly seems to be working for wellbeing.

  3. ... by the way, in the light of this post, you might perhaps want to link to the 'Common Ground' website; supporting and celebrating local diversity across these islands... http://www.commonground.org.uk/

  4. I agree with you both, for we should celebrate both worms and the English. Whilst I abhor the xenophobic and nationalistic tendencies of a bigoted minority in this country, I don't think that we should shy away from enjoying our differences as well as are similarities with other cultures. The same goes for worms, for although I have no great passion for them (Probably because a boy called Ian Nichols tried to make me eat one once! I still appreciate their importance to the environment and my veg patch. And as for Charles Darwin.... He rocks!!!