Tomorrow's Invertebrate Recorder: Lucy Crowther


 A bit about me
I was about to move into the next chapter of my life, leaving behind a life of employment, a “proper job” in environmental consulting and go back to university (again) to begin studying my PhD. Realistically, I hadn’t been out of university all that long, but life was moving fast. I liked studying invertebrates, perhaps one of three students from my undergraduate degree that did. Initially, I had been studying bees, starting out self-taught and then attending a FSC course with Steven Falk to learn more about microscopic identification of solitary bees, and another with Ian Cheeseborough to find out how to start a reference collection.

Growing up in a farming community I knew bees were important and at the time they were (and still are) at the forefront of invertebrate conservation, so this suited me nicely. I could run around fields where I grew up identifying bees and the flowers they fed on. But really what I was lacking was some friends and colleagues to run around with, with net and pooter in hand, and learn from.

 With the growing nerves at the thought of my impending PhD, I applied for the FSC BioLinks Tomorrow’s Invertebrate Recorders course (a 5 day residential for 18-25 year olds to learn about invertebrate identification and surveying), I needed to brush up on my ID and learn something more than bees – my PhD was to be on integrated biological pest control, a different environmental service than I had previously researched. I had never really been taught anything entomological, besides my few days of FSC courses, so a week of invertebrate inspired learning, and meet like-minded enthusiasts sounded great.

 The Early Bird Catches the Worm 

 The course was based at Preston Montford in Shropshire, I was returning home, having grown up in the fields outside Ludlow. On this course, we were able to choose between Earthworm ID or Spider ID. Realistically spiders are much more important for biological control than earthworms, which are not at all. I went with Earthworms ID, for there are just 31 species across the UK and Ireland, much easier. Really, I picked earthworms as a chance to expand my knowledge on ecosystem services, I had done my research on pollination, was doing my prep on biological control and here was a chance to look at decomposition and nutrient cycling.

Earthworms are significantly important to soil health and structure, acting as ecosystem engineers to enhance soil aeration and drainage through burrowing, improve crumb structure and increase nutrient availability through soil gut passage, and increase the soil's water-holding capacity and nutrient levels through incorporation dead organic matter. These qualities are not only hugely beneficial to the avid gardeners out there but also to large scale agricultural production across the UK, and this was what I was interested in.

 Intestines of the Earth  

Globally there are over 6000 species of earthworm, in the UK they are allocated to four ecological groupings which can be identified in the field:

Composters – these the gardeners out there will be familiar with. Often found in the compost heap, these worms are bright red and stripy when fully outstretched.

Epigeics – these are surface dwelling, found under leaf litter and rotting logs. These earthworms feed on decaying materials rather than soil and are dark red in colour (maybe consider this a tan)

Endogeics – these live in the soil and make horizontal burrows. These earthworms feed on the soil itself, rarely venturing to the surface and are very pale pink (these aren’t tanned as they never venture above ground)

Anecis – these earthworms’ dwell in deep vertical burrows. Some soil is eaten, but generally, this grouping feeds on dead material that is drawn into the burrows. These are large, with dark pigmentation on the head (the only bit that leaves the burrow and thus gets a tan)

And if you want to know more, you’ll have to find yourself a FSC BioLinks course, which I highly recommend.

 Final Thoughts

Meeting this great group of like-minded youngsters, and the great tutors was a wonderful experience. We learnt much more than I covered here. We learnt about where our records go when we submit to Biological Recording schemes, about what careers are out there, and much more. I think as a young conservationist/ecologist/entomologist I had felt quite alone, often talks and volunteer events I had attended had been rather grey (not that that was a bad thing), but I was missing some peers of my age group. To develop friendships with individuals from across the UK, and across the spectrum of entomological study, both in area of interest and stage of their journey was just as valuable as the identification skills gained. FSC BioLinks is a great project, integrating wonderful people and teaching about amazing invertebrates. 


 - Guest blog by Lucy Crowther, Tomorrow's Invertebrate Recorder


Interesting blog, Lucy. Glad to hear you are keeping up your biological interest.