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Metaldehyde Slug Pellet Ban Announced – Slug Killing Options Now

The main constituent in conventional slug pellets, metaldehyde, is to be banned in 2020 announced Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment. The reason cited is an unacceptable risk to wildlife. Metaldehyde based slug pellets will be withdrawn from sale in 6 months.

Slugs on Lettuce

Slugs infesting a vegetable garden. 3 on a lettuce!

It will be legal to use metaldehyde based pellets after 2020 under cover – basically polytunnel growing farmers, presumably with a licence to use pesticides.

Risk with Metaldehyde Pellets

There is a risk with metaldehyde based pellets of poisoning pets and children who directly eat them although this is extremely unlikely if they’re properly applied – i.e. scattered thinly. Dumping slug pellets in piles is dangerous and ineffective.

The risk to wildlife is that they eat the dead slugs who remain on the surface and are poisoned by the metaldehyde in the slug corpse. Although this has been cited as a risk for many years – which is why metaldehyde is banned under organic standards, I believe it is actually an extremely low risk with few actual cases. Still, I could well be wrong. Incidentally, the ban is only in the UK – not the EU and USA etc.

Metaldehyde and metaldehyde based pellets have been used to control slugs for the last 80 years – so to many gardeners they are the go-to slug control. Happily there are now good alternatives.

Alternative Slug Control Methods

One of the most effective slug controllers are ducks. They love them! But if you don’t have ducks that’s not much use to you. Ducks & chickens tend to devastate vegetable crops too.. not the ideal solution on the plot. Chickens will often ignore slugs, I assume they don’t like the taste.

RHS Trial of Alternative Slug Controls

The RHS undertook a study of five popular organic home slug control methods and found them to not be effective.

Copper tape, horticultural grit, pine bark mulch, wool pellets and egg shells were all shown to make no difference when applied to lettuce, with gastropods inflicting the same damage to those treated with the remedies as without.

Traps & Trapping

Beer traps etc. will catch slugs as will heading out at night with a torch when the devils are active to pick them. The problem is the ones that get away. In a small area you can make a real difference although more will head in to fill the void so an unpleasant task you just have to repeat frequently to keep on top of them.

Nematodes

NemaslugNematodes (sold as Nemaslug) can be the most effective solution. Nematode controls are very small worms that infest and kill the slugs and only the slugs. Other creatures are unaffected and the environment isn’t harmed but there are some drawbacks to nematodes as a control.

  • First problem is cost. They’re not a cheap solution and repeat treatments may be needed during the season.
  • Secondly the conditions have to be right, if it’s too cold they won’t work. They don’t much like heavy soils either.

With the right conditions though, nematodes are very effective, possibly the most effective solution to slugs.

Ferrous Phosphate Pellets

The ferrous phosphate based pellets are my preferred slug control method. They work just as well if not better than metaldehyde pellets but in a different way. Metaldehyde causes the slugs to dehydrate leaving the trails of slime and dead bodies on the surface. Ferrous phosphate stops them eating so the slug goes back underground to die.

Because the bodies aren’t visible, some doubt their effectiveness but, trust me, they do the business. Some years back we visited a friend in the Limousin (France). Despite barriers, traps and night hunts her major problem was large brown slugs, dozens of the devils. As fast as things were growing, the slugs were munching them up. You can see three of them on one lettuce! I asked why she didn’t use pellets and the answer was that she didn’t want to harm the frogs and hedgehogs, not to mention her four cats.

The first application had vanished the next morning and the number of slugs reduced. A second application also vanished over a couple of days and so did the remaining slugs.

Ferrous phosphate pellets are a little more expensive than metaldehyde based pellets but, used properly (scattered thinly), the difference in price is negligible on a garden scale. Since they’ll have to ramp up production to fill the void when metaldehyde pellets are withdrawn, I expect the price to fall a little in the long term.

Uneaten pellets eventually degrade into their constituents which are basically a fertiliser.

I know of two brands. Growing Success Advanced Slug Pellets and Neudorff’s Sluggo Slug & Snail Killer which comes in a standard and ultra type. The ultra type is stronger and so you need to apply less.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
8 comments on “Metaldehyde Slug Pellet Ban Announced – Slug Killing Options Now
  1. Rowland Wells says:

    as a user of metaldenhyde pellets with good results I am in favour of the proposed ban if it includes all and not just the small minority basically if your going to ban it that must include farmers and growers with no exclusions no get out of jail cards under the umbrella of pesticides licence because a majority of metaldenyde pellets are used by growers and farmers on open cultivation crops of rape and brassicas crops and others and not the home gardener

    I believe on the hole home gardeners are aware of the dangers to wildlife of using methaldenhyde pellets and use them responsibly I only use methaldenhyde pellets on netted raised beds not on open planted ground

    now having said all that I will be the first to use ferrouse phosphate slug pellets because it been said phosphate pellets do the job as well as the methaldenhyde pellets so its going to be shop around to find the best price for Phosphate pellets next year

    mind you Gove mite be out of a job or sacked next year who knows

    • John Harrison says:

      I reckon the ferrous phosphate pellets actually work better and the price has fallen to near the same. I use about half a pack at most in a season so a few pence isn’t a problem.

  2. Rowland Wells says:

    what did farmers and growers use before Metaldehyde slug pellets?

  3. Rowland Wells says:

    a little bit more info John how long do the ferrous phosphate pellets last after a rainfall as the Metaldenhyde pellets seem to disappear when it rains

    and as you say the ferrous pellets last longer therefore it must be adding more protection for brassicas crops do you find its best to spread the pellets round each plant or scatter all over the brassicas bed or put them in a waterproof tray or dish?

    • John Harrison says:

      Hi Rowland
      Once the slug population is reduced, the remaining pellets seem to last quite a while, certainly longer than meta. Not that we get much rain here 🙂
      Follow the instructions on the pack and spread them thinly and as evenly as you can on the bed. They attract the slugs to them. You should use meta like that too.

  4. Donna reid says:

    I think the ban is a step in the right direction. My husband and I are both vegetable & ornamental growers and have endured the grizzly task of night time slug/snail hunting. However we recently came across an old recipe of using bran in a pot. It’s irresistible to the gastropods that they sniff it out eat their fill then dry out whilst remaining edible to hedgehogs , blackbirds etc.

  5. Rowland Wells says:

    Hi Donna
    can I ask do you put the bran in a pot and cover it keeping it dry not letting it get wet and does bran last a some time or do you need fresh bran top up I’m thinking of trying this method out on our raised beds

    would packet bran flakes do the job?

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