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- Category: Archived News 2012
- Created on Friday, 15 June 2012 09:42
- Last Updated on Friday, 15 June 2012 09:42
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Lovely weather for slugs: Wet summer creates ideal conditions for slimy creatures and means more bad news for your garden
- Floods and heavy rain have helped slugs breed, bringing misery to farmers
- Molluscs are destroying produce such as lettuces, beans and aubergines
- Impact on potato harvests could push up the price of chips, experts warn
By Rob Preece
Britain's farms and gardens are under attack - from millions of crop-eating slugs that are thriving in our washout summer.
Floods and heavy rain have helped create ideal breeding conditions for the slimy molluscs, which are crawling over flower beds and destroying lettuces, beans, wheat and other produce.
It is even feared that the invasion could push up the price of chips because of its effect on potato harvests.
Slime wave: Floods and heavy rain have helped create ideal breeding conditions for crop-eating slugs
Organic growers are finding it particularly hard to keep them at bay because they do not use chemicals or pesticides to spray on their crops.
All they can do is cut back vegetation around their crops to remove hiding places for slugs and snails, or encourage birds who feed on them.
Farmer Phil Thomas, of Linscombe Farm organics, near Exeter, Devon, said slugs had slipped under the edges of his polythene greenhouses to ruin carrots and aubergines.
He said: 'The crops have taken a hammering.
'The slugs eat the growing tips out of the middle of the plant which really knocks the plant back.
'We have to come in the middle of the night and pick them off the plants.
'Then you have to either drown them or crush them - it’s not the nicest of jobs.
Hit hard: Organic farmer Phil Thomas said slugs had slipped under polythene greenhouses to ruin his carrots and aubergines
'You have to wear gloves because you’ll never get the slime off your fingers otherwise.'
The slug and snail population is said to have trebled in some parts of the countryside, due to the combination of a mild, frost-free winter, a heatwave in May, and the recent cool, damp weather.
Last month it emerged that researchers had found up to 1,000 slugs per square metre in some areas, which could mean a total of up to 15billion across Britain.
Slug expert Dr Richard Meredith, of Bayer Crop Science, said then that certain breeds could lay up to 500 eggs at a time, and he warned that potatoes were particularly at risk.
David Glen, an independent slug specialist with Styloma Research and Consulting, said: 'With conditions as they are, slug activity will be very high so populations are primed to increase significantly.
'Slugs are extremely resilient creatures capable of surviving harsh environments before breeding rapidly when conditions suit.
'They are free-roaming creatures capable of moving up to five metres a night and they are able to detect food from 60 centimetres away.'
Grim task: Mr Thomas has to kill the slugs by hand because he does not spray pesticide on his crops
The Horticultural Development Council estimates that slugs cost the sector £8million a year in lost output while in arable crops a single slug can kill up to 50 wheat seeds in the first week after drilling.
Preferences for winter-sown crops, an increase in the number of oilseed rape fields and a trend towards lighter cultivation techniques have all helped to swell slug populations over the last 20 years.
A spokesman for the National Farmers Union said the slug infestation was disastrous.
'On a good night a slug can munch its way through 50 wheat seeds after they’ve been planted,' he said.
'They can travel over five metres a night, they can smell food over 60 centimetres away and then they’re all over it.
'They’re not good news.'
Birds such as thrushes and blackbirds might disagree, however.
In a normal spring when the sun comes out and the ground dries, they have trouble finding enough worms to feed their young.
But the rapid increase in the snail and slug populations has led experts to predict a better breeding season, with many more chicks surviving to adulthood.
Menace: The slug and snail population is said to have trebled in some parts of the countryside