Debate on banning slug pellets to protect hedgehogs

'When it rains, the metaldehyde is washed off the soil and into watercourses, which include ponds, and leads to the poisoning of fish, toads and frogs'
Debate on banning slug pellets to protect hedgehogs

Britain recently introduced an outright ban on slug pellets that will come into effect next Spring.

Most of the country’s hedgehogs have now gone into hibernation for the winter, but they are not being forgotten by people interested in their welfare.

Many of these unique and prickly mammals die every year from a variety of hazards in gardens, hedges, fields and along roadsides.

Slug pellets containing metaldehyde are particularly harmful to the hedgehogs and has led to calls being made to ban their sale in discount stores and garden centres.

Following research carried out by an expert group on pesticides, Britain recently introduced an outright ban on slug pellets that will come into effect next Spring.

Last month, Senator Lynn Boylan (Sinn Fein) asked the Government here to consider a similar ban to ensure such products are not readily available to households.

She said the research in Britain found incontrovertible evidence that slug pellets containing metaldehyde are harmful to wildlife pets and freshwater supplies, including ornamental ponds.

“While any outright ban would, of course, require consultation and a lead-in time, surely, we could stop the use of these pellets in suburban gardens and public grounds,” she said.

Senator Boylan, who volunteers with a hedgehog rescue centre, said every year it takes in hedgehogs foaming at the mouth after ingesting slugs and snails that had consumed the pellets.

“When it rains, the metaldehyde is washed off the soil and into watercourses, which include ponds, and leads to the poisoning of fish, toads and frogs,” she said.

Recalling that Ireland was the first country to declare a biodiversity emergency in 2019, she urged the Government as a minimum to consider restricting the use of these pellets in household gardens.

“Today, anyone can just walk into any of the very well-known discount stores we see in all of our towns and villages and on the high streets and buy these slug pellets for as little as €1.50,” she said.

Calling for a public awareness campaign, she said she does not think people are deliberately putting down slug pellets to destroy wildlife. They just want to protect their plants and are unaware of the alternatives.

Senator Boylan said one of the small measures people can make to ensure their gardens are wildlife-friendly is to create a small entrance gap in a fence or gate to encourage hedgehogs to enter.

“If people encourage their neighbours to do the same, they can ensure hedgehogs have a viable habitat and food to survive in the suburbs,” she said.

Senator Boylan said people into gardening and wildlife watching know they do not need slug pellets because hedgehogs are the best slug and snail deterrents they can have.

Minister of State Malcolm Noonan (Green Party) said he agreed with the Senator's call for restricting the use of slug pellets in household gardens.

“People can buy stuff off the shelf in supermarkets and garden centres for domestic use. People should stop doing it.

“I do not recommend people use those products. They are doing huge damage,” he said, adding that a National Parks and Wildlife Service public awareness campaign will be considered.

Minister Noonan outlined the position of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, the competent authority in Ireland with responsibility for the authorisation of plant protection products.

He said the potential impacts on small mammals, such as hedgehogs, and on other wildlife, were considered as part of the active substance approval and product authorisation processes in all cases.

The slug pellet products authorised for sale and use in Ireland contain one of two EU-approved pesticide active substances, which are used to minimise the potential for damage to crops or garden plants.

Products should only be used if necessary and users should always consider the potential for alternative control methods, such as sowing seeds to a greater soil depth or planting slug resistant crop or plant varieties.

“Most of the products are authorised for domestic use by amateur users but some are for professional use only.

Products allowed for amateur use generally have a lower risk profile, with less concentrated formulations and lower application rates. I agree with the contention that they should not be used in domestic settings,” he said.

Senator Boylan welcomed the Minister’s response and said she would be happy to work with him on a public awareness campaign, as would the hedgehog rescue organisations with which she volunteers.

She said she agreed farmers are trained on how to use these slug pellets and they know when they should and should not be used.

“The incontrovertible evidence from the British expert committee on this has found they are very harmful.

“I echo what the Minister of State has said on encouraging people not to use these products at all. It would be better if they were taken off the shelves.

“We all know we might live in a bubble and follow the news, but most people will just go in and pick something up.

“If it is cheap at €1.50 and they think it will protect their garden plants, they probably do not realise the damage they are doing,” she said Responding to the debate, Minister Noonan said hedgehogs, a protected species, are essential to biodiversity. Natural pest control should work far better.

Looking at the pending UK ban, he said: “We will have a situation where one part of the island will have a ban on such products but not down south.

“An EU-wide review should take place in this regard. We are in the depths of a biodiversity crisis. It is very important that we do this. There are alternative slug control methods out there,” he said.

Minister Noonan said there is a different set of circumstances for commercial crop growers, and this was recognised. “Once again, I reiterate to the public they should not use these products in their gardens,” he said.

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