Written by Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

A ban on a pesticide used in slug pellets has been withdrawn in the face of a legal challenge over how the decision was made, the Government has said.

The ban on the outdoor use of metaldehyde, which is used to control slugs in a range of crops and in gardens, was announced in December last year, with sales phased out after six months and use after 12 months.

It was brought in following advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and the Health and Safety Executive that metaldehyde poses an unacceptable risk to birds and mammals.

But in the face of a legal challenge brought over the decision-making process that led to it, the restriction on the sale and use of metaldehyde products has been withdrawn and will be reviewed by the Environment Department (Defra).

The sale and use of metaldehyde products is permitted pending the decision being retaken.

A Defra spokeswoman said: "The Government has decided to withdraw and review the decision made in December 2018 to restrict the sale and use of metaldehyde products, following concerns raised about the decision-making process.

"We will retake the decision as swiftly as possible, taking account of the procedural points raised.

"Our priority is to protect people and the environment, and all decisions on pesticides are always based on the best available science."

Slugs are a top pest for gardeners and cause damage to crops including potatoes, cereals and oil seed rape.

But Defra said there were alternative methods such as using pesticides which contain ferric phosphate, which provide effective control of slugs and snails without carrying the same risk to wildlife.

Responding to the move, National Farmers' Union deputy president Guy Smith said: "It's of the utmost importance to farmers that decisions on the availability of vital plant protection products are made properly, following the procedure set out by law.

"Metaldehyde products play a key role as part of an integrated approach to slug control and farmers remain acutely aware of the need to use these products judiciously and to ensure their use has minimal impact on the environment."