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Last Updated: Sunday November 27 2005 14:30 GMT

Drive to safeguard edible snails

Common garden snail.
This is the Roman snail's cousin - a common garden snail

A campaign's started to stop a certain type of snail being taken from the wild to be served up on plates.

Rustlers are making money by selling the edible Roman snail, the largest in Britain, which can grow as big as a golf ball.

Experts fear that the slimy creature is facing extinction unless some government action is taken quickly.

Snail rustling isn't illegal in the UK because snails are not on the endangered list.

Matt Shardlow, from the national insect charity Buglife, said the snails were disappearing as rustlers could easily sell them for cash.

He said: "People can just pick them up and sell them. While what they are doing is not illegal, they are taking animals from the wild."

Hard to track

Mr Shardlow said tracing where the snails were sold was difficult because they were farmed in Europe and also imported.

He said: "We don't have any names of restaurants but they are being sold in the big cities - you won't get them down your local pub."

A spokeswoman for Defra - the department of environment, food and rural affairs - said the snail would not be protected until 2007.