Schoolchildren unearth interesting playing field results

07 Mar 2016 | No. 2016-12

Since the summer of 2015 1,606 schools across the UK have taken part in a survey to find out what is living under their feet, and how this affects the birds that depend on the wildlife that lives in our soil.

So far, around 40,000 schoolchildren have taken part in the 'What’s Under Your Feet' project to help find out, what is living right under their feet, and how it is distributed across the country in the differing soils.

The schoolchildren were asked to sample a 300mm x 300mm square of soil on their playing fields, and rather surprisingly, it seems that the length of time since any rain had fallen had a large impact on the results. More invertebrates were found in the soil the longer it had been since there was any rainfall. This might mean that the floods experienced this winter in northern Britain could have far reaching implications for those animals that rely on soil invertebrates. Further investigation is needed and it will be interesting to see the results from those schools whose playing fields have experienced flooding.

Early indications also show that there are often more soil invertebrates close to trees and shrubs. Worms, woodlice, spiders, beetles, ants and earwigs are all more abundant near shrubs or trees than they are in open soil.

Blaise Martay, lead scientist on the project said, “The next step in the survey will be to try and find out what types of invertebrates different bird species like. Thanks again to everyone who is helping us and don’t forget to take part this year and let us know what you find, it might just be brand new to science.”

What’s Under Your Feet is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology in collaboration with EDF Energy. The next phase of the project begins on 1st March 2016, when registered schools will be asked to dig again.

Anyone can take part - view more information, and register your school.

Notes for Editors

  1. What’s Under Your Feet? - We know little about the distribution of soil invertebrates across Britain or which factors influence their abundance such as climate and soil type. Engaging schools in this project provides an excellent opportunity to answer these questions, and they will be getting their hands dirty in the name of science. By digging randomly selected turf samples from school playing fields, schools can hopefully provide us with the information to help us relate long-term declines in some familiar bird species to climate change.

    Learn more about the What's Under Your Feet? project at the Pod website.
  2. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Dr Blaise Martay
(BTO Research Ecologist)

Office: 01786 466557
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: blaise.martay [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.
Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2016-12

The BTO has an ISDN line available for radio interviews.
Please contact us to book an interview
Office: 01842 750050

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