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Moles: Public Enemy No 1

Things that you maybe don't know about that perisher...

Since the last outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease, when rural pest controllers were unable to gain access to vast areas of countryside, there has been a massive increase in recorded Mole numbers throughout Great Britain. Combined with the exceptionally wet and mild winters of late - this has contributed to this population explosion. With abundant food supplies and little in the way of control taking place, they have been free to multiply to plague proportions. Moles have been reported appearing in places that previously had never had a Mole problem - gardens, grass verges, playing fields, bowling greens, all have been invaded. The once, finely manicured lawns, have been reduced to mound strewn eyesores - with a never ending supply of fresh molehills.

Love him or loathe him, Mr Mole (Talpa europea) is a mysterious and interesting creature to most - with very few, even countryfolk, ever having seen one. The closest most get to seeing any evidence of this fascinating member of the Talpidae family are the roadside fields and verges that are covered with mounds of earth - the result of hours of unseen toil by this diligent little worker. The Mole has a long and colourful history and has long been the the subject of myth and legends. A common superstition was that to carry the dried front feet of a Mole in one's pocket would ward off rheumatism. This custom is still carried on today in England, in parts of East Anglia. Mr Mole was also famously responsible for a Royal catastrophe - causing the accidental death of William III, Prince of Orange, when the King's horse stumbled on a molehill in Hampton Court Park - William died of his injuries 16 days later on March 8th 1702. It is not recorded whether the King passed comment on Mr Mole - but the molehill is portrayed in the King’s statue in St. Jame’s Square, London. As a result of this exploit - the Mole was held in high esteem by the Jacobites and a favourite toast of theirs was to, “The Little Gentleman in Black Velvet”.

The average Mole weighs in at approx. 4oz. and is about 6 Inches long, with dark grey hair, not black as is often supposed and is velvet-like in texture. Other colours have been recorded, including white and black and white - with apricot coloured specimens being occasionally found, mostly in the Oxfordshire area. The Mole is not blind as is commonly thought - but its eyesight is decidedly poor. Which is only to be expected in a creature that spends most of its life in subterranean darkness. It needs to eat its own weight daily, relying mostly on earthworms, but will also eat slugs, beetles, spiders, centipedes, and leather-jackets. It will eat carrion, usually a dead bird or mouse which it comes across on an expedition above ground, but surprisingly, it will not eat vegetable matter. Moles mate from March to May and 3 or 4 young are born, usually in June, but they are unable to fend for themselves until they are five weeks old. The average life span is around four years.

The molehill covered fields that we see, are the result of endless hours of tunnelling as the Mole digs more and more worm traps ( for this is all they are) and deposits the excess soil on the surface. In light soil, a Mole can dig around 100 Metres in a day. Moles usually work for 4 hours and rest for 4 hours, being most active at dawn and in the evenings. It’s the result of all this hard work that brings the Mole into conflict with man - damaging lawns, golf courses, cricket pitches and in the case of agriculture, ruining valuable silage crops. As a full time professional pest controller, it’s at this point, I get called in to try and control the number of Moles that are causing a problem. Note I use the word control, as the object of the exercise is not to exterminate totally or persecute to the point of complete eradication.

The sights that greet me when called to remove a Mole from a garden never ceases to amaze me. Windmills and bottles stuck in the lawn - the brown stained grass where creosote or Jeyes Fluid has been poured down holes. This combined with the unmistakable smell of Moth Balls, that have been thrust down into the ground to try and deter the Mole from further excavations - makes me think that maybe a molehill was far less unsightly!

National Pest Technicians Association The British Association for Shooting and Conservation