Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Metaldehyde-free farming trial expands for a third year running

November 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Crops

The UK’s largest ever metaldehyde-free farming trial has been expanded again after successful second year results achieved a 93% drop in levels of the chemical detected in reservoir tributaries.

Year three of the Slug It Out campaign will see it extended to include Covenham in Lincolnshire.  This is the first pumped catchment of the scheme, covering both the Long Eau and Great Eau Rivers, which supply Covenham water treatment works.

This will more than double the trial’s hectarage again, bringing the total to an impressive 22,500ha. Around 90m litres of water a day are treated at Covenham water treatment works and put into supply, making it a vital part of Anglian Water’s network.

Slug It Out was first launched to look at how levels of metaldehyde in rivers and reservoirs could be brought below the drinking water standard of 0.1 micrograms per litre in treated water – equivalent to just one drop of water in an Olympic swimming pool.

Previously farmers within the natural catchments of seven reservoirs in Northamptonshire, Rutland, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, covering an impressive 10,000 hectares, have worked with Anglian Water’s team of advisors on the Slug It Out campaign.


As part of the campaign, all farmers involved have agreed to use alternatives to metaldehyde to control slugs on their land. The trial resulted in an estimated 2,111kg of metaldehyde being removed from the farmed landscape.

The Covenham pumped catchment sees water transferred from Saltfleetby to the Louth Canal at Alvingham via a pumping system. It is then stored at Covenham reservoir before being treated and sent to over 100,000 homes across north-east Lincolnshire.

Although Covenham water treatment works can tackle most pesticides, metaldehyde is impossible to reduce via treatment alone. Metaldehyde is not harmful to humans at current concentrations but its presence at the levels found means UK drinking water breaches quality standards.

The results speak for themselves. By the end of the second year, the maximum level of metaldehyde in reservoir tributaries fell by an average of 93%, compared to levels in 2014, while the average peak levels detected in the reservoirs fell by 37%.

Lincolnshire catchment advisor Kelly Hewson-Fisher said: “Although a 93% reduction is a fantastic result for these trial areas in our natural reservoir catchments, they represent only a fraction of the area that needs to be involved – and that’s why we’re expanding the trial.”

Invaluable findings

“Results gained from the Slug it Out initiative had already been invaluable in understanding how land was managed and the steps needed to ensure that both the water and agricultural sector employed sustainable future approaches towards metaldehyde.

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the engagement of the farmers within the trial, so we want to say a huge thank you to them. Our industries are faced with navigating this thorny regulatory issue and so it’s essential we work together and continue to tackle it.

“If we are to comply with Drinking Water Standards in the UK, we know that a more detailed and longer term strategy is needed, which also takes account of non-agricultural and domestic use of metaldehyde and focusses on our most high risk areas for water quality.”

Metaldehyde remains the most popular pesticide for dealing with slugs – but the alternatives are growing in use, in particular those using ferric phosphate as the active ingredient. Ferric phosphate isn’t as soluble in water as metaldehyde and doesn’t enter water courses to the same extent.

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