Posted: Wednesday 9 April 2014
by Richard Jones
I have a sneaking admiration for snails. Despite their simple, squidgy bodies and their ability to shred precious seedlings, I can’t help but admire their beautiful whorled shells.
I have a sneaking admiration for snails. Despite their simple, squidgy bodies and their ability to shred precious seedlings, I can’t help but admire their beautiful whorled shells, mottled or striped with delicate patterns and muted colours. They’re always a hit with children who, after admiring the rippling musculature seen as the animals glide across a sheet of glass, inevitably want to start competitive snail racing.
We don’t have a huge variety of snail species in the garden, but we do get the girdled snail, Hygromia cinctella. Named for the distinctive sharp white girdle rim running around the outer edge of the shell, it's immediately recognisable, despite its small size (up to about 11mm diameter) and variable colour range from yellowish to dark chocolate brown. My admiration for this snail goes beyond its snazzy go-faster stripe, though. This one has crawled all the way from the Adriatic.
Hygromia cinctella isn't a native British snail, and is probably originally from Italy, or adjacent regions of Slovenia-Croatia. But it has spread widely throughout southern and central Europe - Hungary in the 1930s, France in the 1940s, and in about 1950 it arrived in Britain. At first it eeked out a fragile toe-hold in Devon, the sheltered Mediterranean climate thereabouts allowing it to just about cling on. But in the 1990s it suddenly started to race across the country.
The assumption is that it was first spread in horticultural material, but its distribution in the UK isn't a random series of widely spaced garden centres. It follows a clear ‘natural’ distribution across much of the West Country and South Wales, up the Severn Valley, and down the Thames to London, where it's now common and widespread. It's obviously thriving here.
Being small and pretty, it's unlikely to be regarded as a garden nuisance. Unless its spread and populations continue to grow explosively. In which case, who knows….