At a snail’s pace

These slip­pery lit­tle suck­ers are fas­ci­nat­ing–if frus­trat­ing– gar­den in­hab­i­tants, says David Tom­lin­son as he takes a closer look at 10 com­mon species

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Paul Quagliana

David Tom­lin­son ex­am­ines 10 species of these fas­ci­nat­ing crea­tures

‘In the past, they were used for treat­ing jaun­dice, corns and fail­ing eye­sight’

THERE’S noth­ing that bet­ter il­lus­trates the cul­tural di­vide be­tween the French and the Bri­tish than our ap­proach to snails. Where some of us pre­fer to throw the pests over the gar­den fence, the French re­gard the snail as a gas­tro­nomic de­light, col­lect­ing it, cook­ing it and wash­ing it down with a crisp, dry Ch­ablis. How­ever, nei­ther na­tion has a fond­ness for the snail’s ined­i­ble cousin, the slug.

In Bri­tain, we have about 120 species of snails, many of which are rare and lit­tle known, al­though they’re not with­out their ad­mir­ers. In­deed, the Con­cho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety of Great Bri­tain and Ire­land (www.conch­soc.org), which was founded in 1876, holds reg­u­lar field meet­ings, of­ten pro­duc­ing in­trigu­ing re­sults. For in­stance, last year, one such gath­er­ing in the Har­wich area of Es­sex recorded the pres­ence of the greater semi-slug (not the most at­trac­tive), never be­fore found in East Anglia.

For­tu­nately, there’s lit­tle chance of a greater semi-slug turn­ing up in your gar­den, as it’s an in­di­ca­tor of an­cient wood­land. How­ever, there are sev­eral species that do reg­u­larly oc­cur in gar­dens, rang­ing from the ubiq­ui­tous gar­den slug to the large, hand­some and pro­tected Ro­man snail. Al­though most of us strug­gle to find beauty in a slug and re­gard death by drown­ing in beer as too good for them, many snail shells are ex­quis­ite when seen close up.

Ter­res­trial mol­luscs have al­ways strug­gled for a good press. In the past, they were used for treat­ing jaun­dice, corns, fail­ing eye­sight and to cure warts, as de­scribed so vividly by Flora Thomp­son in Can­dle­ford Green: ‘Warts were still charmed away by bind­ing a large black slug upon the wart for a night and a day. Then the suf­ferer would go by night to the near­est cross-roads, and, by fling­ing the slug over the left shoul­der, hope to get rid of the wart.’ I sus­pect they longed to get rid of the slug, too.

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