It would appear that, unless other evidence comes to light, the New Zealand Flatworms have made a tasty meal of our beloved native Dendrobaena compost worms, right in front of our noses in the recently installed WormsWork wormery at Stenton Primary School. There must be some very satisfied flatworms out there because they have almost completely removed every last one of the compost worms.
The school got in touch when they noticed the numbers dwindling and thought something was obviously not quite right. A small furry creature in the shape of a shrew had been spotted which may have also taken it’s toll on the numbers but he was obviously not working alone… Closer investigation revealed a sizeable New Zealand Flatworm curled up right underneath the wormery! Where there is one, there will be more. An immedeate search of the area was fruitless and all other culprits had escaped.
The New Zealand Flatworm has been in the UK since 1960′s, travelling as a stow-away in soil in pot plants etc. and has found a very agreeable habitat in Scotland where it is now found widely and in some areas has devastated native earthworm populations. They are very, very, very sticky, which is how they hold on to their prey. They wrap their body round an unsuspecting worm and secrete digestive juices. Yum, Yum. A mouth opens to suck up the wormey soup. They are easy to recognise because unlike earthworms, their body is smooth and not segmented, when resting in a curled up position, their body is flat but can also stretch out into a very long thin shape. They can escape through the tiniest gap in any container you place it in, so beware they don’t escape if you catch one. Their underbelly is a mottled brown colour with a lighter fringe around the edges.
So what now? Firstly, this is not a disaster. The flatworms have been here for years and some studies have suggested that they don’t completely wipe out the native population but can live alongside them. They will be almost impossible to eradicate as they don’t need a partner to breed(!) but numbers can be controlled by trapping, collecting and exterminating. A number of roof slates have been placed on the soil around the wormery area and it is hoped that these will create an attractive place to hide during the day for the flatworms where they can be collected and despatched. Some people jump on them from a great height, some put them in salt or hot water.
Up until this setback, the wormery at Stenton Primary had been working very well. There is evidence that the worms had been happily consuming the food waste that had been placed in the bedding and covered up. The moisture levels were good and no bad smells detected. The way forward will be to continue to trap the flatworms and remove them. Move the wormery to an area of hardstanding(tarmac?) where it is not on the soil and replenish the compost worm numbers then continue as normal.
If you have any questions regarding the flatworms or compost worms or would like to make a stand against this marauding invader and give a WormsWork wormery a home, then please send me an e-mail. email@example.com