British conservationists are up in arms after a spate of snail thefts in a Surrey wood.
Slippery poachers are gathering up thousands of Roman snails, which are then being sold off for up to £1 each to French restaurants that fry them up in garlic butter and serve them as the l'escargot delicacy.
The level of theft is such that the Roman snail population has been reduced by two thirds.
Police have now been called in as the snails are a protected species and it is illegal to take and sell them.
Andy Keay, a volunteer for WoodChip Conservation, which patrols the 160-acre Banstead Woods and chalklands to put off the poachers, said a 33lb haul of 400 Roman snails could earn a poacher about £400.
He told the Mirror: "A lot of people say they are only snails.
"But they must be three to five years old to breed, so if you take them all out, you're going to devastate the numbers very quickly.
"It makes me very angry."
Mr Keay explained how he recently caught a poacher in the act as he walked off with two "huge carrier bags full of snails".
He said: "I told him he was breaking the law and I grabbed the bags and the snails stayed."
The snails are a particularly easy target, not only because of their famously slow speed, but also because they tend to stay within a habitat of just 30 square yards.
According to the Telegraph, Roman snails are the largest species in Britain, measuring about four inches in length.
Because the snails are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 you must be licensed to touch them, and any offenders could risk a maximum fine of £5,000 or six months in prison.
Think eating snails is weird? Check out some of these strange dishes across the globe:
Weird food around the world. Picky eater? Look away now!
Poachers stealing thousands of snails to sell in French restaurants
If you happen to be visiting China's Zhejiang Province in the springtime, it's the delicate stench of young boys' urine, rather than daffodils, you'll be sniffing. It's not down to a regional problem with toilet training, rather the pee is used to soak and boil eggs to create a tasty street food snack. Aficionados claim they have 'the taste of spring', but we'll stick with chocolate Mini Eggs, thanks.
Look away if you're squeamish. Balut are boiled, fertilised duck eggs, the (usually) 17 day embryo almost fully developed, with fuzzy hair, bones, beak and all. Commonly sold as street food in the Philippines and other South East Asian countries, they're served with a little salt and or a chili and vinegar mixture and are thought to be an aphrodisiac. Er, yum.
If you like your cheese so 'ripe' that it's actually moving, then this Sardinian speciality is for you. Pecorino sheep's milk cheese is left in the open air until cheese fly larvae are laid, these then hatch and the acid from the digestive systems of the thousands of resulting maggots breaks down the cheese to a soft, seeping texture. To add to the fun and games, when disturbed, the larvae can launch themselves up to 15cm in the air.
Ah, the deep fried pizza – stuff of legends. Anyone in any doubt about the existence of this Scottish speciality need only visit a Glasgow chippy on a Saturday night to discover they are alive and well and causing the multiple heart attacks across the land. Any food snobs tempted to scoff should know that 'pizza fritta' is also a Neopolitan speciality (although admittedly they draw the line at stuffing the pizza with a poke of chips...)
Yes, the brain of the small tree climbing rodent is a delicacy in some parts of the US. You cook the head with the rest of the body (after cleaning of course), then, using your fingers and a fork, you crack the skull open and dig the brain out. Apparently, it tastes kind of like mushrooms.
As you probably know, the Scandies are very keen on herring. Fried, pickled, whatever. But in the north of Sweden, they go one further in the pursuit of herring heaven by leaving Baltic herring to ferment in their tin until they reach a level of putrefecation that demands the tin only ever be opened and eaten outside.
A dead tarantula's a good tarantula, so if you're passing through the Cambodian town of Skuon, give these deep fried delicacies a try. The legs are crispy and taste of the salt, sugar, oil and garlic in which they're fried, while the gooier abdomen, home to the spider's organs, eggs and excrement, is more of an, ahem, acquired taste.
Pity the poor puffin who happens to be born in Iceland, where he gets no legal protection and where his heart, still warm and eaten raw, is a national delicacy. In a country where other food favourites include fermented shark meat and cured ram scrota, looking cute, colourful and clumsy is no defence against being fished out of the sky with a large net.
Considered a Peruvian delicacy, guinea pig meat apparently tastes a bit like hare. Breeders recently bred a new 'super guinea pig' in the hope that they could export it to America and around the world. Hmmm. We're still waiting to see if it'll catch on...
Served up in street markets in Nanjing, guess who the the biggest purchasers of these crunchy little critters are? Tourists. Apparently, these taste slightly bitter. And they're very chewy. Which begs the question: why eat them at all?
The UK may be up in arms over unintentionally feasting on horse but it's a delicacy in Japan. Basashi is raw slices of horse traditionally served with ice, daikon pickles and soy sauce. If the idea of horse sashimi doesn't send you galloping to the nearest Japanese restaurant then maybe the news that it also comes in ice cream form will...minced horsemeat ice cream, pass the spoon!
Vietnam operates an 'if you can catch it you can eat it' ethos towards food, which is bad luck for these little birds. This dish recalls the more sinister edge of the nursery rhyme sing a song of sixpence, where four and twenty blackbirds were baked in a pie. These members of the sparrow family are roasted or grilled until crispy and eaten whole, head and all.
It comes to the table rolled up and looking like a cold flannel and, to be honest, doesn't taste that much more pleasant to eat. This thin, greyish, crepe-like pancake is a mealtime staple in Ethiopia and made from the fermented grain Teff, giving the injera its distinctive sour, tangy flavour.
Could you bring yourself to eat one of these cute, furry creatures? If you were in Bolivia you would probably be persuaded as tender Llama meat it served as steaks and burgers. This south American super food apparently tastes like a cross between lamb and beef but comes with far less cholesterol.
Is it a crustacean, a flower or a piece of coral? Actually Buddha's hands are citrus fruits from the Himalayas and, more recently, California. Use these floral-scented fingers as you would a lemon or lime, grating the peel and zest in salads, cakes and drinks or dried to fragrance a room. Buddha's hand margarita anyone?
In Iceland, svid - burned and boiled sheep head - graces many menus from restaurants to bus stops. Diners can eat every part of the head, from cheeks to tongue and eyes (although the latter is preferred by only the most hardcore locals).