Poaching devastating Britains rare snails

Helix pomatia

Helix pomatia

It seems that if it’s alive and moves – no matter how slowly – then it’s a target for poachers and in the UK that means some snails are under threat from local poachers.

A report in Surrey Today has highlighted the threat to some of it’s endangered snail species from poachers. The snail of choice for poachers in Banstead Woods appears to be the Roman snail. The poachers sell the snails – that can fetch up to £500 for 15kg  – to local restaurants. [pullquote]”I said ‘you’re breaking the law’ and he said ‘so what?'” Mr Keay said.”I grabbed hold of the bag and wouldn’t let go; he had two choices, he could go but the snails stayed.”[/pullquote]

Roman snail restricted to a few southern England counties.

The Roman snail, (Helix pomatia), is also known as the pot lid or apple snail but is more popularly known in culinary circles as the edible snail – l’escargot. It is Britian’s largest native snail and is restricted to a few southern counties in England. Attempts have been made to increase the range of the snail in the UK but these have failed to be successful.

Two thirds of populations lost in 2 years to poaching.

Local conservationists have highlighted that over two thirds of some local populations have been lost in the last 2 years alone. The snail has full protection under UK wildlife laws.

The local conservation volunteers, Woodchip, now want the police to become more active in the fight against the poachers. 

Roman snail fully protected under British law.

In England the Roman snail is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it illegal to kill, injure, collect or sell Roman snails.

Andy Keay, a member of the volunteers, told the Mirror: “A lot of people say they are only snails.

“But they must be three to five years old to breed: if you take them all out, you’re going to devastate the number very quickly.

“It makes me very angry. If we catch anyone poaching in future we’ll call 999.”

At the beginning of May, Mr Keay and a group of volunteers were carrying out night-time surveys on the 160-acre former deer park off Holly Lane in Banstead, when they caught sight of a man in camouflage with two bags of snails.

“I said ‘you’re breaking the law’ and he said ‘so what?'” Mr Keay said.

“I grabbed hold of the bag and wouldn’t let go; he had two choices, he could go but the snails stayed.”

As well as being protected by law the population at Banstead Woods is also protected by living in a Site of special Scientific Interest and that means a special permit is required to remove any mollusc.

Poaching snails feeds unscrupulous restaurants and chefs.

While the snail is farmed for the restaurant trade the ease at which they can be caught means that poachers can make some quick money by selling the snails to unscrupulous chefs and restaurant owners.

With over two thirds of local populations being lost in such a short amount of time there are fears for the survival of the species. The snail is slow to grow populations. It can take up to five years for a Roman snail to mature to breeding age. They live on average for 20 years. 

The Roman snail was added to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act in April 2008. It is protected in relation to Section 9(1), (2) and (5) and it is an offence to:

  • Intentionally kill, injure or take (which includes handle) a Roman snail.
  • Possess or control a live or dead Roman snail, or any part of a one.
  • Sell, offer for sale or advertise for live or dead Roman snails.

Any intentional movement or handling, however temporary, of a Roman snail is only permissible if covered by a relevant defence in the Act, or carried out under licence.

Poaching under the Wildlife and Countryside Act can be £5,000 and/or 6 months in prison for each offence.

External sites: 

This is Surrey: Poachers selling snails…

Natural England: Roman snails protection… 

One thought on “Poaching devastating Britains rare snails

  1. These endangered species were strewn across Farthing Downs today,all crushed and dead in there hundreds by the tractor that had cut the meadows.
    So who is responsible for those criminal actions?

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