Backyard Safari: Without Me, Humans Could Not Survive – What Am I?

Posted by: Sarah Ryan
Posted on: 7th April 2016
Posted in: Native Species


From the soil to the sky, the UK is filled with a diverse range of weird, wild and wonderful plants and animals that can be seen in our gardens, parks and public spaces. Many of us live in towns and cities, and this can sometimes mean we overlook the incredible wildlife that manages to adapt and survive in our increasingly urban habitats. There’s a hidden secret in your backyard, right under your nose. When it comes to all life on Earth, it all starts in the ground. In this instalment of Backyard Safari, we are going to take a look at how the soil in our backyard provides the most fundamental level for the habitats that support all wildlife in the UK!

Here’s what we will learn:

  • Why is soil so important
  • What job does a worm do
  • What do we call underground habitats
  • What kinds of birds live underground in the UK
  • How we can spot evidence of animals we can’t see


Soil is vital; it’s the organic material beneath our feet that supports life – and lots of people think it’s just dirt! Every single animal and plant in the UK relies in some way upon the crucial and varied properties of soil in the ground. It may seem like a lot, but it is actually a very thin layer all around the Earth that is also quite delicate! Beneath the surface, many insects begin their lives – some spend their entire life cycle underground!

Healthy soil is vital to supporting the food chain

Protecting soil might seem silly, but it’s actually a great way to take care of all the plants and animals that make up the backyard safari. Whether it’s the wiggly worm, fly fox or wise owl, all of the unique and amazing creatures living around the UK rely on healthy, well protected soil to sustain the food chain.

The humble earthworm plays a key role in the backyard safari by helping to keep the soil healthy. Worms eat all kinds of impurities in the soil, such as decaying roots and leaves. But they aren’t the only things working to keep the ground healthy. Mushrooms are an organism known as a fungus, and they remove the toxins from decaying plants in the soil. By doing this, mushrooms are cleaning out a lot of harmful bacteria and helping new plants to grow!

Atlantic Puffins nest on the ground

The underground habitat is known as ‘subterranean’, and lots of mammals and even birds, including the Atlantic Puffin rely on living on or under the soil for a period of their life cycle in the UK.

Here in Merseyside, the Shelduck is one such local bird known to nest underground! These birds have an amber level conservation status, which means their numbers are declining and they need our help to keep the population thriving in our city. Shelducks like to nest underground, sometimes even hiding their eggs in the homes built by other burrowing animals, like rabbit warrens! You can easily identify a shelduck by their bright red bills and black heads.

Shelducks are water fowl, meaning they like to live around water

Our lifestyles don’t always match up with the animal kingdom, which means we might never see the animals that come out to hunt while we are in bed, play together while we are at school or find shelter when it’s cold and rainy outside. However, being able to spot the signs these animals leave behind could open you up to a world of wildlife you never knew was there!

A great example of this is a mole hill. Seen by many as a nuisance, a mole hill is a great sign that life is good under your patch – they love to eat all kinds of bugs, creepy crawlies and worms called invertebrates, so if moles are living around you it means the soil is healthy enough for lots of these little creatures to thrive!

Mole hills are easily recognisable mounds of soil

So what kinds of animals do you think could be living in the ground around you? Get involved with the Backyard Safari project by sharing your snapshots and stories with us via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using #BackyardSafari. Don’t let the wild world around you slip by unnoticed, start discovering more today!

[Image credits: PhotoPlus, Creative RF via Getty Images]


Article by: Sarah Ryan

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