British Gardeners critical over slug protection laws


By Fiona Govan
(Filed: 11/07/2004)

A new animal welfare law that will offer slugs and snails the same protection as cats and dogs was condemned by gardeners yesterday.

Legislation to be announced by the Government this week will give courts the power to impose fines of up to £20,000 and 12 months in jail on people found guilty of mistreating animals. Anyone under the age of 16 will be banned from owning a pet and goldfish will no longer be allowed to be given as prizes at fairgrounds.

The legislation could lead to gardeners being fined for killing insects, worms, caterpillars, slugs and snails, if scientific evidence proves they have suffered pain and distress. Ministers say the law, which updates existing legislation, is needed to protect animals from abuse. Horticulturalists rejected the idea that they could be guilty of cruelty.

Bunny Guinness, The Telegraph gardening columnist and six-times winner of the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, said gardeners should not be liable to fines for protecting their gardens. "Hundreds of slugs and snails are being slaughtered in gardens up and down the country. It would be quite ridiculous to call that cruelty. Almost all gardeners use slug pellets or salt to keep the pests at bay," she said.

John Cushnie, a regular panellist on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time, said some aspects of the legislation were nonsensical. "To give worms and slugs protection under the law is ludicrous. If I have an infestation of slugs or snails or cabbage white butterflies then I will get rid of them in whatever way I choose. No one is going to tell me that the things are suffering. If I want to boil them alive, stamp on them or treat them to a slow drawn-out death by poison then I will - and would like to see the Government that would try to interfere with a man and his garden."

The draft Bill, which updates the Protection of Animals Act 1911, will be published next week by Ben Bradshaw, the minister for animal welfare. The penalties for cruelty would double the present maximum jail sentence and substantially increase the £5,000 maximum fine. Anyone owning a pet, farm or exotic animal would have a statutory duty of care towards it and could have it taken away. They could also be banned from looking after another. Unborn animals will receive the same protection.

RSPCA inspectors would gain the right to enter without a warrant any lorry, ferry, plane or hovercraft carrying animals. This has been included because of the growing awareness of the suffering of livestock on long journeys.

Inspectors entering a private home without a warrant would need to be accompanied by police.

The crackdown follows pressure from the RSPCA and organisations such as the Kennel Club, but has been criticised for not going far enough. The draft contains no reference to circus animals and fails to ban tail docking.

The RSPCA welcomed the Bill but said it would continue to campaign for stricter protection. "This would be the single most important piece of welfare legislation affecting animals since 1911," a spokesman said.

The Countryside Alliance expressed concern that the law would be interpreted for animals used for sport or recreation. Even though the changes are not intended to affect hunting, shooting or fishing, the alliance fears animal rights campaigners could attempt to use them in relation to dogs in hunt kennels, racehorses in stables and pheasants reared for game shoots. A spokesman said: "The law could be taken too literally. If people can be prosecuted for causing their pets psychological distress then a man could be arrested for having a depressed dog."