When gardeners gather together to chat about all things plants, whether they grow flowers or vegetables, it is not long before the topic of slugs and snails comes to the fore. Phrases like, ‘the slugs have eaten all my dahlias!’, or ‘they’ve devoured all the lettuces!’ are not uncommon. Gardeners, garden magazines, and garden books alike frequently discuss how to get rid of slugs and snails. How to stop slugs and snails from eating our beloved plants is not an unfair topic, but many articles and book chapters still cover how to kill slugs and snails, while neighbouring articles document how to save bees or hedgehogs. Gardeners around the UK have taken heed and implemented wildlife-friendly plants and practices into their green spaces that will help pollinators, amphibians, and hedgehogs, but the molluscs (the term for slugs and snails) haven’t quite reached the lofty heights of protection. It is easier to make room for the wildlife that is helping the garden, while simultaneously waging war against our ‘plant predators’. However, removing the slugs and snails may harm the helpful wildlife and ultimately the garden itself. Here are 9 reasons why you should spare the slugs and snails in your garden.
1 They Are Food for Other Wildlife
Slugs and snails have to watch out for several predators. They are a meal to many other creatures including frogs, toads, hedgehogs, and garden birds. Even ducks and chickens will devour slugs. According to the RSPB slug guide, they are also food for foxes, badgers, slow worms, and even beetles like the violet beetle and the Devil’s Coach Horse beetle. And according to Country Life, garden snails are loved by songbirds. Remove them and you could be removing a vital food source of other wild animals.
2. They Do Not All Eat Your Plants
Have you noticed that not all your garden slugs look the same? There are dozens of slug species in the UK. Not only do they look different, but their choice of food also varies. Some prefer decaying matter, some prefer to stay under the soil, and others are omnivorous! Snails also have numerous types. Country Life writer Ian Morton writes that there are over 120 snail species in the UK. They have a wide diet, from living plants to decaying matter and other animals.
3. Some Slugs Eat Other Slugs
Omnivorous or even carnivorous species of slugs might not be eating your plants but actually eating their sluggy neighbours. Meanwhile, some slugs eat other animals: the John Innes Centre describes the Ear Shelled Slug as an eater of mostly earthworms, not your plants. Therefore, if you kill slugs and snails, you may harm the ones that are helping you out.
4. They Help Maintain Good Soil
Given that many of them feed on decaying matter and live in the soil, they help gardeners by breaking down organic matter added to feed the garden beds, borders, and plots. They also plough routes through the earth. Soil needs pockets of air and space to provide drainage for plants, so it helps to have creatures like slugs, snails, and worms working through it.
5. Gastropods Help Make Compost
Make use of their presence in your garden and make compost. Slugs which flock to your compost bin are interested in decaying matter and will break down the green waste in your compost heap. Combined with brown waste, this homemade organic mix is a valuable supply of nutrients to plants in pots and borders.
6. Remedies for Killing Slugs are Harmful to Other Animals
Slug pellets could be consumed by other wildlife, poisoning them in turn. Even if other wildlife does not eat the pellets, animals like hedgehogs, frogs, and birds could eat the poisoned slugs and snails, possibly receiving a larger dose of the poison if they consume more than one mollusc.
Bowls of beer or cola are another classic slug and snail killer, but again these could kill other animals. A liquid like beer or cola could be drunk by birds and amphibians could drown in it. The use of salt could also harm other animals in the garden including pets.
Many remedies promoted as ‘all-natural’ are not naturally occurring in the least, instead containing household chemicals. If you want to maintain an organic plot, it is best to use control methods that do not harm the neighbourhood slugs or snails.
7. They Help Attract Other Beneficial Wildlife
If your garden seems to be inundated with slugs and snails, use it to your advantage to attract predators. Beneficial wildlife will congregate in accessible, abundant gardens. You have already got a good food supply of slugs and snails – now just add water, sheltered shrubs, and a gap in the boundary so they can flock to your garden café. This could attract predators of other plant pests too, helping control aphids or flea beetles.
8. Nature Puts Them There for a Reason
Before you wage war against anything that eats a lead in your patch, stop and think about why it is there. Everything in the garden and nature has a place, it has a role to play. Removing it could cause an unseen issue. It is also impossible to remove slugs, snails, and every pest; slugs and snails amount to a population in the thousands in an average garden, while many pests pop in and out from other gardens and even the pots of new plants. Instead of trying to remove each pest or hoping that all your plants will be uneaten and perfect all the time, expect all these pests and plan some of the garden for them and some for yourself. Use these obstacles to improve your knowledge of plants and your creativity in gardening.
9. Wildlife Friendly Means All Wildlife
If we are to help reverse the dangers that British (and world) wildlife are facing, we must help all wildlife. This means helping the cutey ones and the fluffy ones, but also helping the small slimy iffy-looking ones. Remove one, even just a few slugs, and you take away a food source, or a link in the wildlife chain. We need a wildlife corridor across our lands, with food and shelter along it and even one slug (or twenty) in one garden – like your garden – is a help towards saving animals like hedgehogs, frogs, and garden birds.
Now when you are next in your garden or green space, try one thing: spare a slug, or spare a snail.