Tom Hart Dyke was on Radio 4 the other morning talking about his kidnap experience in Colombia some years ago. I was reminded of the day he invited me to go to Lullingstone Castle to see his Roman snails. Now there was an offer not to be refused!
This picture is one of the farmed Roman snails I bought from Italy last year. I've kept half a dozen hoping they might breed but I'm not hopeful as they are so fussy about where they like to live. But I digress. At Lullingstone, Tom and I rummaged about in the undergrowth along the paths until we found some empty shells and eventually one real live Roman snail - it wasn't at all pleased to see us. We were very careful not to disturb it as they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act but it certainly knew we were there and retreated into its shell to wait until it was safe to come out. While we sat in the potting shed drinking coffee, Tom talked about seeing the snails every day on the path when he was walking to the station each morning to go to school. Locals could remember seeing them often in the past and we know they've been in Britain certainly since the Romans brought them to eat. There's a Roman villa at Lullingstone of course so that would fit the story. The differences between Helix pomatia (Roman snails) and Helix aspersa (our common garden snails and escargots) are quite subtle but this photo shows them quite well. The foot is a different shape - with a central ridge and a sort of 'skirt' round it and the pattern on the skin is different if you look closely. I think they are lovely creatures ...but I could be biased of course!