The search for Britain’s Best Amateur Scientist has ended with the award going to Ruth Brooks, for her experiment into the homing instincts of snails, which I wrote about last month.
Four finalists presented their findings to scientists at the British Science Festival in Birmingham last Tuesday and judges were impressed by the way her experiment had been set up and had engaged so many, including children.
As she said at the Festival, “Gardeners’ lore says that if you eject snails from your garden they then return.” The question was to find out whether the apparent homing instinct was merely a random movement towards food.
Having established in her own garden that the movement certainly wasn’t random, she then moved on to try to discover the distance that snails would travel. "On the evidence so far, it would be safe to take them beyond 100 metres or further and put them somewhere luscious for snails and then they won't come back.”
She described taking part in the experiment as exhilarating, challenging and scary. It’s also jolly useful for all those of us who knew they returned, but just weren’t sure from what distance. Lobbing snails more than 300 feet sounds something of a challenge, unless you're in training for the Olympic Javelin, so it looks as if the answer is collecting them in a bucket and sending them off to that “luscious” place. This does not mean the cabbage patch five doors down…
Ruth, unlike me, has always been a reluctant snail-killer. “This hasn’t just been about snails,” she said. “It’s about remembering that we as human beings are just part of a whole network of interconnecting systems. So being kind to our snails will not only make our behaviour sustainable ecologically but will make us feel much better about ourselves.”
Possibly, until transplanted gastropods learn to work harder on their sense of direction.