Farmers offered slug pellet switch to safeguard water quality

Farmers in Cheshire and North Wales are being offered the chance to switch to more environmentally-friendly slug pellets to help improve raw water quality.

It’s important that farmers have an effective way of protecting their crops from slugs, but traditional pellets contain the chemical metaldehyde which can be harmful to wildlife and difficult to remove from raw water.

There are strict guidelines to follow when using metaldehyde which include no pellets being allowed to fall within a minimum of 10 metres of any field boundary or watercourse and not using them when drains are flowing or heavy rain is forecast. 

The Metaldehyde Stewardship Group’s ‘Get Pelletwise’ campaign aims to help agricultural users minimise environmental impacts by encouraging them to: 

  • Take a field by field approach to assess the risk of metaldehyde reaching watercourses
  • Make sure they’re applying the correct dose according to the product label and MSG guidelines
  • Make sure they’re qualified and trained to use their pelleter equipment and that it has been maintained to the required standard
  • Ensure their records are accurate and up to date

United Utilities is taking a different approach by attempting to encourage farmers, in three of its surface water safeguard zones (River Dee, River Dane and the Llangollen Canal), to use an alternative type of pellet.

The water company is offering farmers money-off ferric phosphate slug pellets. Making the switch also simplifies slug pellet applications with just one product being used. 

Dr Kate Snow, from United Utilities, explained: “We support the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group’s efforts to minimise the environmental impacts of metaldehyde slug pellets but we’re hoping to encourage more farmers to switch to ferric phosphate slug pellets which are just as effective as metaldehyde, and easier to treat. We’re offering farmers fifty per cent off the price of ferric phosphate pellets and, if they’ve already bought metaldehyde, we can help them make the switch at no extra cost. By controlling the amount of pesticides flowing into raw water we can reduce the need for costly treatment processes which is better for the environment and better value for our customers,” she added.

James Huxley, of DJ Huxley (Farms) Ltd, said: “I’ve used ferric phosphate slug pellets exclusively over the last two seasons. Last year was particularly challenging being so wet. I’m very pleased with the slug control ferric phosphate provides. Switching to ferric phosphate means I still control slug numbers, only have to calibrate the spreader for one product and minimise risk to water quality. The fact that United Utilities refunds 50 per cent of the cost means I win all round.”

Richard Maddocks, of Brook House Farm, St Martins, commented: “I changed to ferric phosphate slug pellets three years ago and I find them to work equally as well as metaldehyde but with the benefit of being safer to the environment.”

Farmers can find out if they’re eligible for any of United Utilities’ offers by contacting their local catchment advisor:

  • For the River Dee catchment area contact:
  • For the Llangollen Canal catchment area contact: