The Slug Appreciation Society

Slugs are no longer to be classed as garden pests by the Royal Horticultural Society.

This is welcome news. Instead, let’s thinks of slugs as an important part of a garden’s ecosystem.

Slugs are very much maligned and misunderstood. According to the RHS’s research, only nine of the forty odd native species of British slug eat garden plants. Most of the rest are detrivores, clearing up dead and decaying vegetable matter, fungi and lichen from your garden. Some species are carnivores that will hunt and eat invertebrates, including other slugs.

Yellow slug and slug eggs

None of the hundreds of ways we have of killing slugs is selective. Slug pellets and beer traps can’t distinguish between a slug that will eat your pansies and one that is happy to live entirely on the algae growing on the inside of your greenhouse. Rather than killing all slugs just in case, consider sacrificing a pansy or two to your garden’s biosphere.

The RHS prefers to call slugs nature’s recyclers, not just clearing dead matter from the garden, but providing an important food source for garden wildlife, including hedgehogs (now officially classified as vulnerable to extinction by the Red List for British Mammalsand many of the species of birds that are increasingly dependent on garden habitat and bird tables.

How to protect your precious garden plants from slugs without resorting to poisons that are either illegal, dangerous to wildlife or ineffective?

Leopard slug

Personally, I cultivate leopard slugs, Limax maximus. They are omnivorous, both a detrivore, eating rotting vegetable matter and a carnivore, known to pursue other slugs at a top speed of 15 centimetres per minute. I feed mine on chopped-up vegetable kitchen scraps and make sure they are well watered. They are not 100% reliable but they have guarded my runner beans and courgettes this season with no more than the occasional nibble on a lower leaf.

We are in the middle of climate and biodiversity emergencies and it is time we accepted that our gardens should be places of safety for the UK’s beleaguered wildlife. Let’s look after our slugs and treat them as a precious link in the garden food chain.

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