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