Wendy's life

This blog has been created as a celebration of the life of Wendy Margaret Cronin (born 16 October 1944 and died 10 October 2007). The blog owner (me) is Steve McRobb (aka Macro) - I was Wendy's partner and then husband for almost 30 years. To add comments or a post, you must be an invited friend or family member - email me if you knew Wendy and would like to join.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Wendy and her snail re-homing scheme

I was listening to the radio last week - Material World on Radio 4, 13 May - and heard an item that was right up Wendy's street.  The programme has been running a contest for BBC Amateur Scientist of the Year, and one of the finalists is Ruth Brooks, a retired Special Needs Tutor.  That's already a coincidence, but there's loads more to come.  Ruth's proposed experiment is to find the homing distance of the snails that decimate her plants: "How far away do I have to dump them before they can't find their way back to my garden?"
Many years ago, I helped Wendy with some related research, although it was not conducted on a proper scientific basis. Snails and slugs used to devastate our Craven St garden, especially the hostas by the pond. Wendy tried several ways of getting rid of them. Being a good vegetarian, sympathetic to organic principles, and also just plain kind, she didn't want to kill them. She didn't mind frogs (we had plenty of them, thanks to our wildlife pond) or thrushes eating them, because that was natural. But they just weren't doing enough of a job. So Wendy started teaching snails to fly - over the back wall into the allotments.  One day a snail surprised her by flying straight back. On reflection, she realised other gardeners didn't want her snail flying students. So instead we began re-homing them. This involved first gathering all the snails (and slugs) we could find, usually going into the garden after dark with a torch and searching among the hostas near the pond. We collected them in a half-kilo margarine tub with holes punched in the lid so they could breathe, and usually a few half-eaten hosta leaves for food. For some reason, although this was all Wendy's idea, I seemed to wind up doing most of the night-time gathering. Then, the next time we had to go somewhere that meant driving out of town, we took the box of molluscs and 'liberated' them somewhere we thought they would like to live.  Preferably a long way from our garden.
In the early 90s, the term 're-homing' dropped out of use and we began to call it ethnic cleansing. This became a familiar term as the Bosnian war began to dominate the headlines, but I think the 'ethnic' concept first occurred to us when we noticed slugs and snails don't like to share a tub.  Snails like to clump together, but snails and slugs keep to separate sides of a tub.  After that discovery, we kept two tubs, one per species.
We did this for many years. The furthest I remember taking any was Derby. I had a gig there one night, and I was concerned that some snails had been waiting in their tub for several days. I released them under a hedge near the city centre. It didn't seem like a particularly good place at the time, but then central Derby doesn't have that many snail-friendly locations, and I didn't want to bring them all the way back to Melton.
We often speculated about how far a snail needed to travel before it could not find its way home, but we never did the research to find out. I was pretty sure the Derby ones never got back, but how about the Kirby Lane drops?  That's only about half a mile, and who knows? Maybe now we are finally going to find out, thanks to Ruth Brook's experiment. Wendy would have loved to know.
Latterly I've reverted to teaching snails to fly. Just over my back garden fence is the King Edward wildlife garden.  I don't reckon it will annoy anyone if a few more snails land in the undergrowth.


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