The war against snails: can gardeners ever win?

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In the past few weeks, the slugs and snails have risen in British gardens – and they are hungry. Before you reach for the shovel or pellets, experts suggest some other options

If there is anything likely to send even the most mild-mannered gardener on a murderous rampage, it is waking one morning to find the lettuce has been shredded and the carefully nurtured young plants have been razed overnight. In the past few weeks, the slugs and snails have risen – and they are hungry. It’s not that there are more than usual this year – experts don’t think that’s the case – but after a cold and dry April, perhaps the ones that are emerging are doing so with a vengeance and heading for the hostas. Go out at dusk with a torch, particularly if it has been raining. “It’s quite shocking what you find sometimes,” says Charles Dowding, an organic gardener and author. “You suddenly see these swarms of slugs everywhere.”

It is tempting to view gastropods as the enemy, and to start a war that can include search and destroy techniques alongside biological weapons and traps. Less extreme options include gently relocating them, or surrounding their victims with protective barriers. But what is clear is that for most gardeners doing nothing is not an option: in its annual pest ranking, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) found that slugs and snails were again gardeners’ biggest foe, after sliding down the chart in recent years.

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