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  • Julie Muller

Why Make Mountains Out Of Molehills

A sheep dog sits amongst the many molehills in the grounds of Malvern College in Worcestershire
Shep surveying the molehills in the grounds of Malvern College in Worcestershire

There are about 35 million moles living in the UK, although they are very rarely seen. This is because they spend most of their 3-year life living deep underground in self-made tunnels. We only become aware of their presence by the untidy heaps of soil left behind when they throw out soil as they tunnel close to the surface.

Moles are small mammals with a short velvety-black coat, tiny eyes and spade-like front feet equipped with long sharp claws. They live a mostly solitary life, only seeking female company in the spring breeding season. At that time the males extend their tunnelling network in search of a mate – creating one or two spherical nest chambers along the way which they line with comfy dry plant material.

Following a successful mating, the 3 or 4 pups are born blind and naked, but they grow fast and leave the nest at 5-6 weeks by climbing to the surface and dispersing in all directions. It is at this time that they are at their most vulnerable as potential food for buzzards, owls, and foxes although many of them fall victim to cats, dogs, and the tyres of speeding motor vehicles.

To many people, mole hills are an annoying ‘blot on their landscape’. They are particularly disliked by greenskeepers, groundsmen, park keepers and, of course, gardeners. In the wider countryside, the moles are blamed for damage to farm machinery, damage to the roots of freshly sown crops and for depositing bacteria–contaminated soil on the surface.

This soil could get into the sileage that forms part of the animal feed used during the winter months, and cause listeriosis. However, tweaks to the sileage making process can reduce the risks substantially.

Of course, our immediate reaction is to ‘evict’ Mr. Mole using whatever means is most expedient, cost effective or labour saving.

Before it was banned in 2006, the use of strychnine was commonplace. Mole catchers were employed who would lace earthworms – the mole’s favourite food – with the neurotoxin and drop them into the moles’ tunnels. Sadly, the moles died an agonisingly painful death over several hours.

Two. sheepdogs sit and lie down in-between the molehills in the grounds of Malvern College in Worcestershire
Bruno and she sit amongst the molehills in the grounds of Malvern College in Worcestershire

Today baited mole traps are the main method of mole control, and they are readily available to buy in all DIY stores, garden centres and farm wholesalers. Many of these traps profess to be ‘humane’ meaning that they kill instantaneously.

The question is – how do you control moles without killing them? It is possible to buy ‘live capture’ traps, but then you need to find a suitable place to relocate the moles.

Alternatively, you can try to deter them by placing foul-smelling substances in their tunnels such as pickled eggs, very old cheese, sour milk, coffee grains or garlic. You could spray a mixture of castor oil and soap on the surface of the soil or plant daffodils or marigolds. Marigolds contain a natural pyrethrum that deter some of the insects upon which the mole feeds. Failing that, solar powered mole deterrent can be used to emit low frequency vibrations which fool the mole into thinking that another mole, or even worse, a predator is digging close by.

There are so many potential mole controls available.

However, I wonder, for most of us, is this just a big fuss over nothing?

For most of the time we do not even notice moles. They dig underground tunnels that actually aerate and mix the soil and, in addition to the earthworms that they love to eat, they eat large numbers of bugs, grubs and slugs which destroy our garden plants. In this way, the moles are beneficial to us.

Elizabeth Buchannan wrote a delightful children’s book called “Mole moves house” in which she narrates the relationship between people and moles from a mole’s perspective.

The back cover of her book reads ……

“When mole sees Mr Carrington digging the garden he’s elated. Another digger!

He moves next door and begins his work at once – Mole has big plans for helping Mr Carrington. But when Mr Carrington discovers who is excavating his lawn, he makes plans of his own – plans that will keep Mole busy and readers laughing”.

This book is well worth a read - whatever your age!

However, you may feel about mole hills, they are a feature of our natural environment, and their artisan, the mole, deserves its special place in our British countryside.

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