Wild About Gardens - Slugs: friend or foe?

Nick Upton/2020VISION

Slugs are often seen as enemies, even by the most dedicated wildlife gardeners. However, they can be the gardener’s friend, not just a hated foe. Read on to discover how Penny and Peter Brook have become more reconciled to sharing their garden with them.

From the February edition of The Garden, the Royal Horticultural Society’s magazine, we learnt that there are more than 40 slug species in Britain but just nine of them are known to damage plants. Many slugs eat dead and decaying matter and are important for returning nutrients into the soil. Some plant seeds even germinate better when they have passed through a slug.

Slugs really come into their own as an important part of the food chain. They provide food for birds, frogs and toads, slow-worms, and several species of spider and ground beetle. Glow-worm larvae feed on slugs. A healthy slug population will help to feed the creatures we love to see in our gardens, such as hedgehogs and thrushes.

Sadly, hedgehog numbers have declined by a shocking 30% over the last ten years. Gardeners waging chemical warfare against slugs have almost certainly played a part in the tragic decline of this much-loved creature. According to the BBC Wildlife website, British gardeners use 650 billion slug pellets each year which then enter the food chain. Tolerating slugs and avoiding poisons is something we can all do to try to halt the decline of the much-loved hedgehog.

Instead of resorting to poisons, you can work with nature to achieve a balance between predators and slugs. We see fewer slugs on top of our compost heap now we have a thriving population of slow-worms there, so perhaps we are witnessing natural pest control in action.

Slow worm eating a slug

Slow worm eating a slug, © Lee Brady, KRAG

Frogs and toads are also the gardener’s friend as they eat slugs. You can encourage them into your garden by having a pond. Fellow Wild About Gardeens advisor Val Rea has one in her vegetable plot as her pest control strategy includes attracting predators to the place where they are most needed.

To increase the quantity and variety of wildlife in our gardens, we really need to learn to tolerate slugs and snails as they are a vital source of food for so many creatures. Gardeners could play an important role in reversing the decline of the hedgehog. Personally, we haven’t reached the stage where we are thrilled to see a slug, as we mourn the loss of favourite plants just like any keen gardener, but we never use poisons against them. Instead, we and other Wild About Gardens advisors have learnt how to cultivate plants in a way that gives them the best chance of survival.

In our next blog, we will share these Wild About Gardens cultivation tips. Wild About Gardens advisors have also pooled their knowledge of plants that seem naturally resistant to slug attack. During the coming year, we will periodically feature selections of wildlife-friendly plants that seem to survive slugs and snails. 

Further information

KWT’s ‘Wild about Gardens’ scheme is offering advice to gardeners in Kent by telephone this year. Visit our website to enter your garden into the scheme and our trained WAG volunteers will do their best to answer your questions.

How to build a pond  - A wildlife pond is one of the best ways to attract  wildlife to your garden.

Rich planting in our borders support lots of slugs and snails!

Rich planting in our borders support lots of slugs and snails!  © Penny and Peter Brook