Could Slug Pellets Threaten Everything on this Planet?

In a source of English drinking water, the levels of toxic pesticide were, last month, found to be more than 100 times over the EU limit. This record-breaking discovery of metaldehyde – a chemical used in slug pesticides – threatened the wellbeing of residents in Essex and Suffolk, as the Environment Agency and Natural England reported the pesticides were found at the River Stour, which is the source of water to homes in these counties. This isn’t an environmental wellness issue that will go away once it’s discovered. There’s currently no treatment method that can extract metaldehyde drinking water – once it’s there, you’re drinking it.


You may be surprised by this news but the truth is that we’ve seen situations like this before, and still little is being done to solve the problem. In many areas across the country this time last year, slug numbers exploded after the wet spring and summer, in similar conditions to those we’ve seen this year. It was in the autumn of 2007 that the problem was first identified, as new analytical techniques allowed experts to test for metaldehyde. Since then, the government brought in a voluntary stewardship programme with guidelines for the use of the chemical, but clearly we need a new plan.


You don’t need to be an environmental expert to work out the main source of metaldehyde in the country; slug pellets. Using them in your garden does indeed put your wellness at risk, but you may not be aware that slug pellets are used in great quantities for the purpose of growing rape seed oil, winter beans, sugar beet and brassicas such as broccoli. In fact, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) offers a briefing on the issue, but sadly this only targets the use of this chemical, and chemical alternatives – there’s no mention of integrated pest management.


In the UK, the main predators of slugs are hedgehogs, frogs and wild birds, but microscopic predatory nematodes and carabid beetles can also be important. You’d think that the increased population of slugs would mean that we’d be seeing scores of these other animals too, but sadly we’ve seen the complete opposite. According to the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, since 2004 the number of hedgehogs has fallen by more than a third, plummeting from 36million in the 50s to fewer than one million today. This is due to a loss of hedgerows, a greater number of roads and the increased building of houses in all in areas of countryside.


These two facts together – slug poison on the rise and slug predators dying out – paints a bleak picture of our farming practices; we don’t understand our precarious environmental situation, nor do we have the research or right plan to deal with it. All advice given to farmers is geared towards the use of chemicals, rather than how they can encourage frogs, hedgehogs and wild birds. Not only would this benefit farmers, but anyone who doesn’t want slug toxins in their drinking water!


While the media is going wild over how metaldehyde in drinking water can impact human health, the water company fairly points out that you’d have to drink roughly 1,000 litres of water a day to be seriously poisoned. Nonetheless, we cannot be complacent. Drinking metaldehyde is not likely to be good for you, but it certainly isn’t good for the environment. If you won’t think of your own health or environmental wellness, think about your furry little friends; any vet will tell you gruesome horror stories of how dogs have died from eating slug pellets. Metaldehyde is threatening animals, plants and humans – in short, everything on the planet – and something needs to be done.

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