Gardeners wanting to rid their spring flowerbeds of pesky snails can ditch the beer traps and egg shells and instead develop a strong throwing arm.
This is according to a new study published following research from the University of Exeter, which suggests that removing snails out of the garden by a distance of over 20 metres or more is just as effective as simply killing the molluscs.
In collaboration with the Queen Mary University of London, the researchers are quoted in the journal Physica Scripta, which has used statistical models.
They claim their results prove that snails are part of larger colonies that live in the garden, and reveal how gardeners can limit the damage the snails impose by nullifying their homing instinct.
Co-author of the study Dr David Dunstan, from Queen Mary University of London, said: “We showed that the number of snails regularly or irregularly visiting a garden is many times greater than the number actually present at any one time in the garden.
“As such, gardeners shouldn’t be setting out to eliminate their gardens of snails. To achieve such a feat would require the gardener to rid the whole neighbourhood of snails, which would be a slow process.
“Gardeners should be setting out to minimise the damage done by snails, which our results showed could be quickly achieved by simply removing the snails over 20 metres away.”
However, before any amateur horticulturists get the idea of using their neighbours’ gardens as a dumping ground – something that one-in-five gardeners admit to in a recent poll by the Royal Horticultural Society – Dr Dunstan adds: “Whilst our study shows that this may be more beneficial than actually killing them, we believe the gardening community would benefit as a whole by removing the snails to a convenient wasteland rather than passing the burden onto their neighbours.”
Dr Dunstan’s study began in 2001 when a small suburban garden was being refurbished. Around 120 plants were planted in the early summer and, after a few days, severe damage from snails had been observed.
Rather than kill the snails, the owners systematically removed them from the garden for six months. Each snail that was found had its shell marked and was then thrown five metres over the garden wall into wasteland. All snails that returned to the garden were given an extra mark on their shell whenever they were found.
A total of 416 snails were marked and thrown over the wall 1,385 times during the study.
The date was statistically analysed using computer simulations to see if the real-life results could be replicated and the researcher found they were only able to replicate the real-life results if the snails were given a “homing instinct.”