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    Watch: Multi-million pound slug research project features on BBC News

    Posted 8 December 2023

    Professor Keith Walters is interviewed by Dr David Gregory-Kumar

    The work of a multi-million pound research project into new approaches to slug management has been featured on BBC news.

    Strategies Leading to Improved Management and Enhanced Resilience Against Slugs (SLIMERS) is a three-year £2.6m research project involving more than 100 UK farms and six industry partners, funded by Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme which is delivered by Innovate UK.

    It is the UK’s biggest ever farmer-led slug-monitoring project - and the culmination of a series of experiments conducted by Harper Adams University over the past eight years. It will determine if patch location forecasting is possible and if it could help reduce the industry’s reliance on slug pellets, in an economically viable way.

    The work has drawn the attention of BBC correspondent Dr David Gregory-Kumar, who spoke to Professor Keith Walters, Professor of Invertebrate Biology and Integrated Pest Management at Harper Adams University, about how quirks in slug behaviour mean that the patches they make can be predicted.

    He told David: “Slugs, when they meet each other, make some significant changes in their behaviour.

    “So, for example, they will slow down: and very importantly, they increase the number of times that they turn. That tends to start keeping them in the same area.”

    Speaking afterwards, Professor Walters added: “During these meetings, slugs will also increase the frequency of periods of inactivity and the change in the number of times they turn will reduce their tendency to travel in a straight line.

    “Interestingly they also develop a bias in the direction of their turns - with some turning left more than right, and vice versa for others.”

    The work of Professor Walters and his team has shown that these changes result in the development of patches with higher slug densities in the arable fields. If done in the right way targeting slug pellet application at these patches only, leaving the rest of the field untreated results in commercially viable slug management with lower pesticide inputs, thus lower costs and lower environmental impact. It may also contribute to making the use of alternative control agents such as nematode bio-control agents more economically viable.

    To complete the development of this new approach to sustainable slug control, the Harper Adams team are now focused on accurately forecasting where these slug patches will form working alongside pellet manufacturers to ensure that they can be readily targeted whilst retaining commercial viability.

    Drawing on this knowledge, the SLIMERS are working with farmers and gardeners across the country – building up a survey of slug behaviour which draws upon this data to help build a clearer picture of exactly what slugs are doing – and where.

    Watch the BBC piece below and read more about the research at this link:

    (Thanks to David Gregory-Kumar and the BBC for use of this piece)

    The team behind the SLIMERS project have recruited 30 ‘Slug Sleuths’ – a group of farmers determined to overcome their slug burdens – who will be selected and paid to host trials on their own farm.

    These farmers will test the developing technology and novel patch location forecasting to help researchers learn more about slug behaviour in a bid to create a long-term solution.

    After this work is completed, robots will move in, bringing infield cutting-edge slug identification and spot-treatment technology for a type of biocontrol agent  - a nematode - building on the SlugBot project which was carried out by Small Robot Company and Crop Health & Protection (CHAP), funded by Innovate UK. The Slug Sleuths will work side-by-side with the autonomous bots to improve the AI models and advance pellet-free biological solutions.

    While this technology will be tested infield by farmers, it will be supported and refined in laboratories, guided by leading scientists, and will include slug patch location forecasting and autonomous solutions for precision control.

    Keen to expand the knowledge exchange beyond the core group of farmers, the project has also launched the Slug Circle – a platform and knowledge exchange hub designed to facilitate discussion, idea sharing and tips for best practice when it comes to slug burdens and controlling them.

    The hub is helmed by project lead Tom Allen-Stevens of the British On-Farm Innovation Network (BOFIN).

    He added: “Knowledge has value, and farmer-led knowledge is among the most valuable there is.

    “It is ludicrous that farmers rely entirely on just one form of control for slugs – ferric phosphate pellets – when our knowledge, combined with the latest science, has so many other solutions that could come into play.”

    The project team are urging farmers interested in being involved – or those who simply interested in alternative, precision techniques for control – to sign up now.

    More information about the project, including links to project partners and research initiatives that underpin the project can be found at

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