Forget the sightings of wildcats on Dartmoor in Devon – I was out hunting giant slugs this weekend. It turns out that the micro-habitat around the River Dart in Devon is home to the rare and illusive Ash-black slug, largest slug in England at up to 30cm long and we were out in hot pursuit.
I was in Devon for a friend’s birthday party, so why would I take time out from relaxation and roaring fires to go hunting a slimy creature that would not be welcome in my own back-garden? One of the other guests worked for the BBC Natural Film Unit in Bristol and so swept up were we in his David Attenborough-like enthusiasm that slug hunting seemed just the thing to do on a bright winter morning.
We arrived in the car-park at Dartmeet, where there’s an ancient stone clapper bridge just above the spot where the East and West Dart river tributaries converge. We found the place swarming with another Dartmoor species, the white water kayak enthusiast. The place was full of vans being unloaded by hardy outdoor types, kitting up in their wetsuits and helmets and we watched a few easing themselves into the river just below the stone bridge. But the Ash-black slugs were calling us and we followed the path downstream and into slug territory.
Apparently, the banks of the river Dart have high humidity all year round, and the rocks and trees are covered with moss and lichen, making it a heavenly habitat for these giants of the slug world. They feast on fungus and shelter in the oak woodlands that grow where the river meets the moorland. We found some enormous fungus and even some silver slug trails, but sadly not the slug monster itself.
There were plenty of canoeists swept by on the fast-flowing river and we followed it down for some way, jumping between boulders and shloshing along muddy tracks. When it was time to turn back we decided to climb up through the bracken to the moorland overlooking the river to see if we could sight any of the granite outcrops known as Tors which are dotted around the moor.
Later, in front of the fire with mugs of tea and cakes, someone sensibly pointed out that slugs tend to come out at night and hide away during the day, so we’d have been lucky to find one. I didn’t fancy going back with my torch at break of dawn, but it was a fun way to inject some excitement into a river walk on a bright winter’s morning.