Old hobby comes to the surface

05 September 2014

MEMBERS of the clergy come from many walks of life, but few can include worm-charming in their CV.

A deacon who will be priested later this month, the Revd Mike North (above), spent last Saturday outside Exeter Cathedral demonstrating his art at the city's annual Green Fair.

"It's a bit of fun, really," said Mr North, a self-supporting part-time assistant curate in the Start Bay Mission Community in south Devon. "I decided to get involved after I retired from the coastguards in Hampshire, four years ago. I moved to Devon, and the village of Blackawton, which each year stages the International Festival of Worm Charming.

"I am interested in green issues, and this is a way of helping people connect with the earth. Charles Darwin said in his last book that worms are probably the most important animals that have ever lived on the planet.

"The work they do improving the soil is far better than all the fertilisers and chemicals farmers spread over the land."

In some parts of the world, worm-charming is a serious profession, providing bait for fishermen, but in the UK it ranks more as an eccentric pastime.

It involves watering and beating the ground to draw the worms to the surface. As an international judge for the Blackawton event - "I didn't step back fast enough when they asked for a volunteer to step forward" - Mr North has to count the worms and ensure that the liquid used to draw them up is potable for humans, to avoid harming the worms.

"Frankly, it is usually beer-based," he said, "but it can come in some interesting colours. Counting a pot of worms can be quite challenging."

His official uniform - a bowler hat, white smock, shorts, boots, and thumb-stick - is closely related to that of morris dancers.

The festival attracts world interest, and teams compete from Europe and the United States. "My congregations seem quite tickled with me doing it," Mr North said.

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