Most gardeners complain about them, but the Royal Horticultural Society is saying we need to take a second look at slugs, many are actually the gardeners’ friends.

The Biodiversity Group has been trying to change the public perception of Dandelions for some time and many people are beginning to see their benefits to insect pollinators, but selling slugs is so much harder.  Slugs are slimy, they slide mysteriously along leaving a glistening mucus trail, their eyes pop out of the top of their heads on tentacles, and they come out at night, they are not cute and cuddly.  Add in that somecan damage precious crops and they become the gardeners’ enemy.

However, although some will feed on the soft new growth of vegetables, most of our forty species of slug feed on decaying organic matter and so perform essential cleaning and recycling roles, returning carbon and valuable nutrients to the soil.  Without slugs, composting would take much longer.  If we didn’t have slugs, gardeners could end up knee deep in dead stuff.  Some, such as the Leopard Slug, are even predators that will eat garden pests including their plant nibbling cousins.

As well as being caretakers clearing up garden rubbish, slugs are an important food source for many other creatures including hedgehogs, toads and birds such as thrushes, starlings and blackbirds. A garden without slugs would be a poorer place for nature.

Our largest slug is the Ash-Black Slug which grows to 30cm or 12 inches, but they are a woodland species and you are unlikely to see one in the garden.  You might find a Large Black Slug, but they are only half the size, or a Large Red which range from yellow to bright orange.

Of course nobody wants their vegetables blighted by night time robbers so how do gardeners keep the plant nibbling slugs at bay?  The RHS has plenty of advice.  Encourage the predators, a garden that is home to hedgehogs and birds, and even slowworms, will not be overrun with slugs nor snails.  Slugs, like many invertebrates, are actually quite fussy about which plants they will eat, so plant ones that the slugs don’t like, the RHS has a long list to choose from.  

One thing the RHS and the Biodiversity Group say to avoid is slug pellets.  Even the organic ones are known to poison wildlife.  Learn to love and live with your slugs, they are an important part of our biodiversity.

Ed Dolphin

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