The Kiwi Killers; Slimy Invader with Huge Appetite for Earthworms Threatens Countryside

Article excerpt

Byline: ALISTAIR MUNRO

AN invader from the other side of the world is threatening to wreak havoc in the Scottish countryside.

At first glance, the New Zealand flatworm seems an unlikely enemy, but its enormous appetite for earthworms make it a huge potential threat to wildlife and agriculture.

Earthworms perform a vital role, recycling nutrients required by plants and breaking down the structure of the soil to assist drainage.

The earthworm is also a part of a delicate food chain for other animals, and its possible disappearance threatens creatures like moles, badgers and hedgehogs.

Earthworms which encounter the killer creature literally meet a sticky end.

The flatworm covers its prey with caustic digestive juices causing it to slowly dissolve.

Estimates suggest that each of the soaring number of flatworms eat one or two earthworms per week. Top ecologist Dr Brian Boag yesterday said he believes the earthworm population is declining rapidly and has called on the Scottish Executive to urgently provide funding to combat the invader.

Retired Dr Boag, who used to work for the Scottish Crop Research Institute, said the flatworm poses a major threat to the livelihood of Scottish farmers.

He claims the true extent of the dangers which the flatworm presents requires further research, but minister have refused funding.

'The flatworm was first recorded in Scotland at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh in the 1960s,' Dr Boag explained.

'It is believed it came here in the soil of pot plants taken by Botanic Gardens from New Zealand.

'It was initially considered a curiosity but that status was reviewed in the 1980s when a study in Northern Ireland showed earthworm numbers were reduced to below detectable levels. …