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Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust: Will 2024 be the year you make friends with Molluscs?

As a keen gardener, I’ve always been hugely supportive of collaborations between The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society as we’re both experts in our fields, well respected and share many values, writes Erin McDaid of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

Gardens can be hugely important wildlife habitats and many gardeners get great pleasure from seeing and encouraging nature on their plots.

Over the years, our joint Wild about Gardens programme has provided advice about supporting a wide range of species from hedgehogs to bees.

Banded snails. Photo: Amy Lewis
Banded snails. Photo: Amy Lewis

Past campaigns focusing on species such as frogs, which some people are timid of, and bats, which some folk fear, were perhaps a little more challenging.

While frogs and bats might not be universally loved, this year’s focus, considering the target audience for the campaign is gardeners, is possibly our most challenging yet.

Persuading gardeners that they should throw a collective arm around slugs and snails is a bit like trying to sell sand in the Sahara desert, but all wildlife has its value and we should at least try to win the argument.

Wild About Gardens Booklet cover. Provided by: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
Wild About Gardens Booklet cover. Provided by: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

As a gardener with four decades of lived experience, I must admit that there are times when slugs and snails cause me real angst — especially when they’ve feasted on a batch of painstakingly raised seedlings.

But, over the years I have grown to more tolerant and now appreciate that slugs and snails aren’t all bad.

The Wildlife Trusts and Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Making Friends with Molluscs’ campaign kicked off last week and aims to encourage gardeners to reconsider the role these much-maligned and misunderstood creatures play in garden ecosystems.

Their negative reputation isn't deserved and is rather discriminatory. Out of around 150 species of UK slugs and snails, only a small proportion pose problems for gardeners.

Instead, most make a positive contribution and by learning to live side-by-side with our slow, slithering friends, gardeners can be more accommodating and practice a more environmentally friendly approach to gardening.

Banded snails. Photo: Amy Lewis.
Banded snails. Photo: Amy Lewis.

While not quite in the same league as earthworms, slugs and snails carry out several vital services in our gardens and on other green spaces.

They are a valuable member of nature’s clean-up crew, feeding on rotting plants, fungi, dung and even carrion — the nice name for dead animals. This helps keep out plots tidier and recycles nitrogen, other nutrients, and minerals back into soils.

Molluscs also serve as a key food supply for many more appreciated garden visitors, such as hedgehogs, song thrushes and ground beetles.

By being more accommodating of slugs, gardeners can indirectly support an array of other creatures. Some slugs, including the leopard slug, also help keep other species of slug at bay and protect our precious plants from damage in the process.

In an effort to act as matchmakers between gardeners and molluscs, The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society have developed five top tips.

Song Thrush. Photo: John Smith.
Song Thrush. Photo: John Smith.

Provide shelter: Create habitats for slugs and snails by leaving log piles, mulch, and natural debris in garden areas. These dedicated spaces may make them less likely to venture onto your vegetable beds.

Plant selectively: By choosing plants that slugs and snails are less attracted to or are better able to resist them such as lavender, rosemary and hardy geraniums you can have a more harmonious garden.

Use barriers: Barriers such as copper tape and wool pellets can provide some protection for vulnerable plants.

Handpick and monitor: Not the most pleasant form of pest control, but by regularly inspecting plants for signs of mollusc damage, and manually removing any you find — perhaps relocating them to your compost heap you can prevent the worst impacts.

Encourage predators: Creating a haven for natural predators such as ground beetles and song thrushes by providing suitable habitats, such as long grass, log piles and wildlife-friendly ponds, you can encourage a more natural balance of species, thus reducing the number of slugs and snails.

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust 60 years. Credit: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.
Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust 60 years. Credit: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.

By adopting these tips, we hope people will be less likely to resort to pesticides that can indiscriminately poison other creatures too. You’ll also be welcoming a host of other beneficial wildlife.

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