WALKERS are being asked to be vigilant against snail-snatching across Bedfordshire, including in Woburn, after a recent spate of thefts could threaten the existence of the creatures.
It is feared that slimy poachers are illegally removing Roman Snails, the area’s largest species and one which is now officially protected, from sites in order to sell them on to French restaurants for as much as £1 each.
The news follows similar incidents reported in Surrey that have led to a full police investigation.
Because the snails do not breed until they are about four years old, it is believed that the population in Surrey has dropped by 70 per cent.
According to the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is illegal to “kill, injure or take a Roman snail” or “sell, offer for sale or advertise live or dead Roman snails”.
Sam Newby-Ricci, of the Ramblers, said: “It might be difficult to tell but Ramblers are extremely familiar with their local countryside and know what is normal and what is not. I hope that if there has been any illicit plundering of snail stocks that we could alert the relevant authority appropriately.”
The Roman snail (Helix pomatia) was introduced into the UK by the Romans for food and is larger than the common garden variety (Helix aspersa). In many parts of Europe, such as France and Italy, it is a gastronomic delicacy, which has resulted in the species almost being wiped out due to over collection and over exploitation of wild populations. In 2008 wild Roman snails were given legal protection from collection, killing and trade in the UK.
Woburn’s Paris House restaurant head chef, Phil Fanning, said his l’escargot came from a snail farm managed by Aylesbury Escargot.
He said: “As the name suggests they are based in Aylesbury and they farm up to a million snails and they are beautiful. We used to import our snails from France but these a much better quality.
“Why would anyone bother to go into people’s gardens or fields to collect wild snails? It’s a ridiculous idea.”
Later next month Paris House is launching an innovative new range of dishes featuring Escargot Pearls supplied by Aylesbury Escargot.
Anyone with information about snail poaching should call the police on the non-emergency number 101, in the hope that they can follow the trail.