toad on damp stones
Which native animals eat slugs and snails?
Slugs have been the bane of English gardeners since the moment we decided to take control of our environment and grow plants just for ourselves. From that moment it has been somewhat of a battle and for the most part the gardeners are losing. Whether it be for food or ornamental value the slugs come out in their droves and usually at the worst possible time. How many of us have had our seedlings devastated before they've had a chance to properly take root, and how many cherished ornamental are scarred with holes that will end up staring back at us for the rest of the season. It no wonder that millions of pounds are spent on slug pellets every year - in fact for many gardeners it has become a year round obsession.

It’s not so much the financial cost of slug pellets we should be worried about but more so the greater cost to our local environments. There are plenty of natural predators out there that will eat slugs and snails for free, but by applying these specific poisons we are unintentionally poisoning these animals as the toxic ingredient 'metaldehyde' has the unpleasant side-effect of making its way up through the food chain. A worrying thought indeed especially when recent figures show that an estimated 4,800 tonnes of pellets applied every year to UK crops by our farming industry alone!

We are lucky in this country by having so many natural predators to call on for help, but with declines in all of their populations there is a need for both concern and action to prevent these figures from dropping further.

SAND LIZARDS. A protected species within the UK, it’s now the rarest of our native lizards with only a few thousand believed left in existence. Much of their decline is blamed on the loss of the lowland heath and coastal dune systems which make up most of their habitat. Although habitat loss is undoubtedly a major factor in their population decline, how much is also due to the tonnes of pellets applied every year in the UK by amateur gardeners and our farming industry?

SLOW WORMS. these were once were commonplace in the UK but now there seems to be a significant decline in their numbers too. If you want to attract them into your garden they prefer densely planted areas with plenty good cover from predation. They are very rarely seen in the open, but strangely they are often found beneath steel sheets. The use of steel sheeting is often used by environmentalists to help confirm the presence of this species in areas of concern. Uniquely, their diet almost entirely consists of slug which makes them a fantastic help to the environmentally conscious gardener.

NATTERJACK TOAD. The Natterjack is not only a particularly rare species in this country it’s also listed endangered. Although given special protection by both UK and European legislation, natterjack toads have declined by 75 per cent in the past century. Like the sand lizard it’s a coastal creature relying on shallow pools found within sand dunes for its breeding habitat.

COMMON FROG. This is perhaps the easiest slug predator to encourage into your garden and all you need is a small pond. Although it’s the most widespread and commonly seen amphibian in the UK, it too is slowly coming under threat with many householders filling in their ponds for safety reasons. Surprisingly, roughly only 5 out of every 2000 eggs manage to survive until adulthood. The reason behind these heavy fatalities is down to their extreme vulnerability during the tadpole and froglet stage as many are eaten by fish, birds and grass snakes. Unfortunately they also have a large number of predators when they are adults including seagulls, stoats, crows, foxes, and cats. To increase their survival rate in your new pond all you need to do is exclude fish, out the pond they will also need plenty of good cover such as dense foliage or log piles

COMMON TOAD. Although spending much more of their time on land, the common toad - like the common frog - will need a body of water in which to breed.

THRUSHES AND RED WINGS. Once a common visitor to our gardens the Song and Mistle thrushes, along with the redwing, are now a far rarer sight. It is thought that the reason behind their decline is partly due to increased completion for food from greatly increased numbers of black birds. However many believe that large numbers have been lost due to secondary poisoning by metaldehyde.

GROUND BEETLES. These tiny creatures have a huge appetites and can eat their way through a surprising amount of slugs when given the chance. Introducing log piles into the garden is a great way to encourage them to stay as the logs are not only ideal for summer nesting sites but also make perfect homes for overwintering.

HEDGEHOGS. These fascinating creatures are a great help in the garden eating large numbers of slugs and small snails. They do however eat beneficial garden beetles but on balance they do more good than harm. It’s important that they have good hibernation sites in which to overwinter, so undisturbed piles of leaves, log piles, brushwood or hibernation boxes under sheds are all fantastic ways in which to encourage them to stay. If you do come across them in the garden, resist the temptation to provide a dish of bread and milk as this can harm their digestion. Instead, plate up a small amount of dog food but don't feed them to much though as they will get lazy and stop foraging for slugs - preferring to wait for their next easy meal.

COMMON SHREW. For feeding, these busy creatures require plenty of cover, especially long, rough grass. If you suspect that they are nesting in the area it's best to just leave them alone because any disturbance near their site - be it a hole or small burrow in the ground - may be enough to cause them to abandon it.

Along with large amounts of slugs and snails they will also eat earthworms, beetles, spiders, and woodlice.


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