My worms are escaping!

By Mark Dowd
July 23, 2009

"Just because you have a small roof terrace and scant time to cultivate an allotment doesn't mean you can't use up your food waste, " said my sister in law. "You urban types have a simple option - get a wormery."

She is a little scary in her green enthusaism (she self-deprecatingly calls herself the "eco-fascist). But essentially she was right. So four days later, I was shredding paper and tucking in my bundle of copper red earthworms into their new home up on my small outdoor space on the corner of Fleet Street.

In theory, they'll munch up egg cartons, tea bags, and most vegetable waste (though they are not at all keen on most meats and citrus products). So in my own small way, I'll be making a tiny indent into the twenty one million tonnes of food thrown away each year in the UK. The vast majority of this still goes into landfill and produces unwelcome quantities of methane which is twenty three times more potent than carbon dioxide as a warming agent.

My new companions didn't get off to the best of starts. I set up their home just before an almighty thunderstorm late at night. Next morning, a number of them had tried to flee and were wriggling around on my wooden deck. Anxiously, I set about looking for the instruction booklet. A frantic search later led to a sodden pulp of paper which had been left out overnight in the rain, but a quick enquiry online to and the crisis was abated.

I've told a few friends of my little adventure and while most people have been amused or curious, one or two have reacted in a rather odd way. I rather suspect that they think I may be getting preachy or in danger of turning into an eco-pharisee!

Which begs a big question: how to enthuse about these issues and gently effect change in those around you without pointing fingers or "guilt-tripping." In the Gospels, Jesus appears on the surface to be issuing contradictory signals. We're told that giving alms in the temple should be done discretely. "Be careful not to do your good works in public in order to attract attention. If you do, your Father in heaven will not reward you," says Our Lord in Matthew Ch 6 v 1.

However, in the chapter before, we read :"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." So which is it?

Actually, there may be less of a conflict here than first appears. Perhaps Jesus is setting us the awesome task of being virtuous in a humble way, facing out to our disparate communities in a way that can gently transform others but without the sin of pride corrupting our efforts.

It's a hard call and one that typifies the dilemma over so many green lifestyle issues. However, (and forgive the clumsy back reference here), the worm is indeed turning. This morning I heard a trial for Radio 4's Moral Maze programme which will examine the ethics of flying abroad on planes versus holidaying in the UK this summer. I, for one, will be tuning between checking the roof terrace, intermittently, for evidence of escapee worms!


(c) Mark Dowd is campaign strategist for Operation Noah ( He is well-known for his TV documentaries on the environment and other issues.

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