a slow passion Ruth Brooks

Garden centres are filled with chemicals to kill snails and slugs, but they form an important part of the ecosystem (providing food for birds and native wildlife). And most items are toxic to pets and wildlife (including ‘safe organic iron phosphate’ versions that also cause horrible deaths to wildlife.

Keep dogs away from slugs, snails (and frogs) to avoid lungworm, which can be fatal. Symptoms (which may take days or weeks to appear) are coughing, lethargy, abnormal breathing and bleeding. It’s a medical emergency. Also change water in outdoor bowls regularly and learn how to make your garden safe for pets.

Grandmother Ruth Brooks won a BBC Radio 4 competition as England’s top amateur scientist, for her discovery on the strong homing instincts of snails. Her ruthless vendetta against snails turned into a journey of discovery and wonder, as the ‘dumped snails’ in a far-off wood would return right back home! She eventually gave up and read up on the surprisingly romantic life of snails and realised that it’s good to enjoy the  slower) things in life, and accept that snails are here to stay!

Snails are the world’s slowest creatures who use ‘muscular feet’ to move, navigating using their tentacles (freshwate and marine snails breathe through gills, just like fish). They live on dead bark, herbs, fungi, algae and even animal scat, and lay up to 100 eggs (up to half will hatch). Slugs are similar, but due to no shell they live mostly underground to avoid the sun, and only come out when it rains (they hibernate in winter).

why organic gardening is best to prevent slugs & snails 

Most slug pellets no longer contain metaldehyde or methiocarb (banned as pets and earthworms were dying). But all slug pellets are dangerous for pets (many resemble dried kibble and just a couple could kill a pet – symptoms include depression, wobbly gait, seizures, rapid flicking eyes or hypothermia which can take hours to show up). Most slug pellets sold in England contain iron phosphate, but often companies add extra substances to make them break down easier, which can harm hedgehogs, frogs, slow worms, beetles and garden birds (that eat slugs or crack shells to eat snails).

Although slugs find it hard to ‘slither over things’, most ‘natural methods used’ are not safe (broken glass, gravel which can get stuck in dog paws etc. Spices, salt, beer or coffee grounds could harm pets or wildlife. Human hair can choke/strangle baby birds. 

inventions to humanely deter slugs & snails 

The best solution is to garden organically, and take slug repellents and garden chemicals to the tip or bin securely. This will attract natural predators like birds. Leave out log piles and ‘hidden areas’ to attract hedgehogs or frogs who will feast on slugs and snails.

Schnexagon is made from natural oils and gypsum (a calcium sulfate fertiliser), painted on pots with a brush. Created by a German biologist, Nadine’s latest project is an anti-fouling paint for boats.

Grazers G2 (Yorkshire) is a mix of plant extracts and calcium that’s applied lightly surface run-off) to cover plants. Slugs and snails then seek alternative food nearby (plants thrive, due to calcium). The company also makes items to deter cabbage white butterflies and red lily beetles. And one to make grass unpalatable to deer, pigeons, geese etc – don’t use on grass where pet rabbits etc).

Molluskit is a nontoxic slug/snail barrier, invented by a Scottish ‘garage tinkerer’ who loves earthworms. In 5 sizes, this is made mostly from recycled material and tested by Scotland’s Rural College to be 86% effective in preventing attack. The ‘comb’ design stops access to plants above ground, and blocks access to root/bulb systems.

SlugZilla was developed in the Scottish highlands, made from organic Hebridean seaweed. The high mineral content is also good for plants. Co-developed with biotech expert Dr Charlie Bavington, studies found when used on lettuce, plants remained virtually untouched. Sold as concentrate, dilute in water and apply with a watering can or garden pressure sprayer for larger areas.

SlugLess is made from organic British straw. It deters through creating a dry spiky surface that clings to snails/slugs making movement difficult, so they learn to avoid. The product holds water (suppresses weeds) and is harmless to children, pets and wildlife. The pellets have an earthy odour that won’t attract dogs (unlike wool). The pellets last all season, then biodegrade into soil. Just cover and water (or wait for rain) to make pellets expand, then rake over gaps. It has mixed reviews, but may be worth a try. Strulch is a ‘straw mulch’ that also claims to deter slugs/snails.

Slug Rings are solid copper rings that you place around individual plants, as slugs and snails don’t like copper. Before use, ensure no slugs or snails trapped inside as they won’t be able to get out after you scrunch rings into the soil, to avoid gaps. Designed to last a lifetime, the site has info on how to fit (make larger rings by joining two together). Sold to hundreds of thousands of happy gardeners, the rings gradually take a on a brown patina, after exposure to weather.

seen a motionless snail?

Often you see snails on walls that appear to be dead. Most of the time, they are simply in a kind of hibernation and will come back to life again when it rains (soft shells are not necessarily injury, simply small snails that have soft shells, which harden with age. So just leave them be.

If you find a snail accidentally trodden on, a slight crack is likely recoverable. But if the shell is smashed, the snail will slowly dehydrate, so may be kinder for a ‘quick stamp’ to Snail Heaven.

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