Charity welcomes ban on toxic chemical to keep slugs at bay

Campaigners at a horticultural charity are welcoming the ‘long overdue’ ban on the use of metaldehyde, a harmful pesticide used to kill slugs, which comes into force on 31st March 2022. 

Garden Organic, a charity which promotes the benefits of organic gardening, has long been campaigning for a ban on metaldehyde pellets due to the harm they cause to wildlife and the environment.  

Metaldehyde pellets have long been recognised as posing an ‘unacceptable’ risk to birds and mammals. Toxins can also find their way into rivers and freshwaters, posing wider harm to the environment and other wildlife. There have been cases of dogs ingesting pellets, leading to sickness and even death.  

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A ban on products containing metaldehyde was originally announced in 2019, however it was overturned due to a procedural error. A new nation-wide ban on products containing metaldehyde was announced by Defra in March 2020, a decision influenced by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which highlighted the risks posed to birds and mammals. The phased approach saw a sales ban come into force in March last year followed by the outright ban on use commencing at the end of March 2022. 

Metaldehyde slug pellets. Credit Garden Organic

How and where to safely dispose of any metaldehyde-based slug pellets varies depending on where you live. The best way to find the correct disposal method is to check your local council’s household waste and recycling information. 

Experts at Garden Organic say that whilst slug and snail damage is a challenge for home and professional gardeners alike, there are more humane, organic ways to combat pest damage without resorting to potent chemicals.  

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Fiona Taylor, Chief Executive at Garden Organic, says; “We are relieved that the ban on the use of metaldehyde has finally come into force. Changing habits can be challenging but enforced actions like this are essential to protect wildlife and support biodiversity.  

“As gardeners, we know how devastating slug and snail damage to our food and flowers can be, but we also know they are an important part of the natural ecosystem. Using toxins to wipe them out is not only heavy-handed, worse than that, metaldehyde is a killer of birds and mammals and has horrible environmental side effects.  

There are ways to limit the damage gastropods do without completely obliterating them. Here are a few top tips from Emma O’Neill, Head Gardener at Garden Organic. 

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Organic Slug Control Tips from Garden Organic 

Plastic recycles as slug collars. Credit Garden Organic
  1. Consider what you grow 

“There are certain species of plants that slugs and snails really love, such as hostas and delphiniums. If you know you have a slug problem in your garden, save yourself the heartbreak and opt for less favourable plants.  

“Foxgloves, geraniums and agapanthus all stand up to slugs and snails well. For a full list of resistant plants visit Raised beds and containers are also less vulnerable to attack.” 

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  1. Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary loss 

“It’s also important to plan ahead and pre-empt potential slug carnage. Make sure to protect your vulnerable plants. Slugs will go after young seedlings, so don’t put them out too early. Wait until they are stronger and more resistant to pests. 

“Whilst you’re raising your precious seedlings, be careful not to overfeed them, particularly with nitrogen-based feeds, as this makes them even more attractive to a passing gastropod. 

“Us gardeners normally sow too many seeds for our space, so keep a few seedlings back to replace any losses. You’ll always find another gardener to swap them with if you find you don’t need them after all.” 

  1. Humane traps and barriers 

“Slugs and snails like dark, damp conditions, so you can attract them to specific areas. 

Putting down a roof tile, for example, will entice them under, then you can check at regular intervals and simply remove any that congregate there. This is a good way to clear an area before planting, especially if you use lettuce as bait under the traps. 

“You can also make your own DIY barriers. Make slug collars from plastic rings with a lip – slugs find these difficult to cross. Place these around individual plants, such as lettuce. Or you could make cloches by cutting the bottom off a clear plastic bottle and firming these into the soil. 

“Alternatively, wool pellets or grit can be used as a barrier, just make sure you top these up occasionally, particularly after any heavy rain. Copper can also be used to protect your plants as it acts as a small ‘electric fence’. You can buy copper tape to put around a pot or raised bed, or put copper rings around your plants. Copper is expensive, so make sure you look after it, and consider saving it for your most precious plants.”  

  1. Natural methods – encourage predators 

“If your garden is a haven for birds, hedgehogs, frogs and toads, these creatures will naturally help to keep slug and snail numbers down. Maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem within your garden is the best and most sustainable way to deal with slugs, snails and all garden ‘pests’.”

Fiona Taylor summarises; “The ban on metaldehyde has been a long time coming. We are pleased that the government has listened to safety and environment experts about the huge risks of this chemical, which far outweigh any benefits. 

“We hope this is the start of a range of measures which sees an end to the use of harmful pesticides. If we care about wildlife and the future of our planet, we must make the positive move to organic methods in our gardens, allotments, balconies and pots.” 

For more information, Garden Organic also has a short video of slug control tips here 

More detailed information is available on its website, 

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Tony Flanagan
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