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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2007, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Is the UK facing a slug plague?
The Magazine answers...

Slugs can lay 500 eggs a year
If all the rain this summer wasn't bad enough, the weather conditions have resulted in record numbers of slugs. Are the slimy critters set for a population boom?

At least it's been a good summer for someone. Plentiful rain, warm temperatures and a shortage of sun have provided perfect munching conditions for slugs.

As a result the slimy, plant-munching gastropod have reached record numbers, with almost 15 billion estimated to be thriving in the UK.

Gardens and crops are said to be facing devastation as the current numbers are certainly unprecedented. Much now depends on weather conditions in the next few months, says Bill Lankford, who is involved in a slug-watch programme for Bayer CropScience.

Potentially, if the wet but warm weather conditions continue as forecast
If it continues to be wet and warm - as long-range forecasts suggest - the infestation could develop into a plague.

"If these conditions continue the slugs will not stop breeding and they are prolific breeders," says Geoff Philpott, a farmer from Broadstairs in Kent.

"I'm trying to deal with four times the number of slugs and snails I usually have and that's hard enough."


Normally a dry, hot period over summer kills off large numbers of slugs, says Dr Lankford. But this year they have enjoyed perfect moist conditions and as a result an average of 61 have been found per square metre of land in counts done by Bayer CropScience.

This is an increase of more than 50% on previous years and the total slug population would be nearly 15 billion if this is replicated across the UK. Some areas have been particularly badly hit - in parts of Gloucestershire there are 100 slugs per square foot.

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What also makes an increase in numbers such a concern is the fact they eat twice their body weight every day. High numbers of slugs have the potential to destroy entire fields of crops, say experts.

"We are entering the planting season for wheat and the number of slugs we are seeing have the potential to devastate such crops," says Dr Lankford.

The slug boom has already resulted in farmers' costs rising and if they increase even further it could result in everyone being hit in the pocket.

"I usually put down two lots of slug pellets - already this year I have put down four and am about to do another," says Mr Philpott. "It all pushes up costs, which someone has to pay."

Advice on how gardeners can deal with slugs

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