New Internationalist

In praise of slugs

In the ‘Editor’s Letter’ introducing the July NI magazine about permaculture, I said I had not come across anyone with a good word to say for slugs.

That was strictly true at the time. But if the implication was that slugs are evil, rather than that I anticipated an early encounter with some of their friends, I apologise. Perhaps if I had said ‘not yet’, any misunderstanding would have been avoided.

Mary Cronin has now written from County Wicklow, Ireland, to point out that slugs ‘break down rotting vegetation. I’ve seen them at work in my compost bin. They’ll also break down meat grease.’

Roslynd Collins, from Droxford, Hampshire, adds: ‘They are wonderful in the classroom, particularly on an overhead projector transparency. Another: the big ones eat detritus and compost it. Only the little ones eat lush green plants. One more: hedgehogs.’

I knew that frogs and ducks are encouraged by permaculture because, among other things, they eat slugs. Together with hedgehogs, they might well wish to make a case for slugs, if only as their next meal.

They would probably be supported by moles, which I’m told also eat slugs. But I have a different kind of problem with moles. In the magazine I reported from the Brecon Beacons that the absence of molehills in an artificially fertilized field indicated sterility.

Philip Melland writes to me ‘as one of the few commercial farmers who reads New Internationalist’.  He assures me that, in Cornwall at least, ‘high use of artificial fertilizer and cattle slurry do not depress mole numbers, so I have moles in problem numbers’.

I should have written ‘in this particular field in the Brecon Beacons’. This would, clearly, have been closer to the absolute truth. But it might not have been worth mentioning, either.

Journalists can be tempted by definitive statements simply because they seem to make more noise. I was once even unwise enough to suggest in print that it had ‘never’ rained in the Atacama Desert.

However, the temptation to qualify every statement with weasel words needs resisting. It becomes a way of avoiding either the hard labour of digging for hard facts or the possibility of ending up in court. Once given in to, it can spread very rapidly until the point disappears altogether.

It may be that frogs, ducks, hedgehogs and moles are good because they eat slugs. Or it may be that slugs are good because they feed frogs, ducks, hedgehogs and moles. More likely, there’s no morality in nature at all.

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  1. #1 EcoPaul 15 Sep 07

    ** Slugging it out **

    Here, here !!

    i'm sick to death of people loathing animals that clean up after the mess and excess of we stupid ever-populating, extinction-bound humans. We hate animals such as rats, leeches, spiders, slaters and snakes because they are PHONETIC INCONVENIENCES.
    If we bother to open our eyes instead of our insecticide cans, we can learn to live better lives by looking at the wonders of those who live as composting outcasts. For instance, snakes are so exquisitely quiet in their slithering. Spiders weave truly marvellous webs or ecologically capture flies.
    All animals need to fear the greatest predator of them all - all 8 billion of them.
    Let's give the slugs their 15 minutes of fame. i love slugs as they reveal a healthy moist non-human-centred microecology. Maybe we now have another, secret reason to be antagonistic to the humble gentlemanly slug. We shudder to think that our developing Westernised girths are modelled on such a 'lowly' species !!
    As for mice and rats, i didn't know there was a difference. i once evicted a mouse with the all-friendly MICE DEVICE. i highly recommend it - as do the lovely mice.

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About the author

David Ransom a New Internationalist contributor

David Ransom joined New Internationalist in 1989 and wrote on a range of issues, from green justice to the current financial crisis, before retiring in 2009. He was a close friend of Blair Peach, once worked as a banker in Uruguay and continued to contribute to New Internationalist as a freelancer until shortly before his death in February 2016. He lived on a barge on the waterways of England’s West Country.

His publications include License to Kill on the death of Blair Peach in 1979 and The No Nonsense Guide to Fair Trade. He also co-edited, with Vanessa Baird, People First Economics.

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