I came across this very distinctive worm in my garden this afternoon. I didn’t know what it was, but had a horrible feeling that it wasn’t good. I was right! It’s one of the ten or so foreign predatory flatworms that are spreading across the country, brought in accidentally in plant compost. They feed on earthworms and other soil invertebrates, some species becoming invasive and having a hugely detrimental effect on soil health. Parts of Scotland and Ireland have been particularly badly affected.
I think this one is Caenoplana variegata, first recorded in the UK in 2008 but native to Australia. There were two of them under a plastic sheet among lots of earthworms and other invertebrates. The earthworms wriggled in the sun and headed off along the path within seconds. In contrast, the flatworms took longer to extend and make a move but when they got going they put on quite a turn of speed. The leaf is about 3 cm long.
This species has a distinctive yellow stripe but they come in various forms. We have four native species of flatworm but they are much smaller and are found in freshwater environments, so any found in the soil are usually non-native.
We are very aware of Himalayan balsam and Japanese knot-weed, but less so of the potentially catastrophic damage these accidentally introduced animals are doing at the bottom of the food chain. Shouldn’t we be more careful about introduced garden plants? It certainly make me feel uneasy about all the exotic plants I’ve bought from garden centres over the years.
It is recommended that you don’t share plants in soil from an affected garden. There is unfortunately very little to be done to control them otherwise.
I have never seen a Leech before, although they are reported to be common. This photo was taken at a shady muddy pond in Centre Vale woodland at Todmorden I fished out an old Beech husk that seemed to have moving legs and found 2 Leeches underneath. Only about 10mm long but it quickly extended its body when it saw me looking at it! On closer inspection the whole pond was teeming with them.