Monday, 5 January 2009

The return of the Mole

The Mole is back in the garden and has been very busy indeed, he is more efficient than a JCB tracked excavator and I can hardly believe the size of the hills and the amount of soil he can shift in one night. Not only that but he goes to the trouble of separating the stones from the soil so what I am left with is a pile of the most perfectly graded John Innes no.1 compost. At the weekend I demolished his huge pile of excavated soil and put it onto the vegetable patch so in retaliation last night he built me an even bigger one. I don’t know if I should just leave this one alone or provoke him some more by taking it away.

If you have an enemy then it is important to know what you are up against. Moles are animals that live underground and burrow tunnels and holes. Male moles are called boars and females are called sows and a group of moles is called a labour. They create extensive systems of tunnels and they can move their own weight of soil every minute and these tunnels can stretch for a distance of thousand metres or more. There excavate a system of permanent tunnels about thirty to sixty centimetres below the surface that cannot be detected from above but it is the runways close to the surface that do the trouble in gardens. Underneath my back lawn is a system of tunnels bigger than the London underground!

I am not sure how to get rid of him because some of the traps available look positively medieval and I don’t fancy using them at all. Human urine is said to repel moles but I have tried that and it hasn’t worked either. Failing that the weasel is the mole’s natural enemy. Apparently if the soil from a molehill is removed carefully an entrance to the tunnel will be revealed. If there is a weasel in the garden it may well nip down and clear out the mole, either by killing it or driving it away. Presumably the next problem is getting rid of the weasel! Mammals such as foxes and cats don't actually like the taste of weasels and leave them well alone so I suppose once you have one of them you have just got to put up with it.


As well as being a nuisance and making unwelcome alterations to the garden infrastructure, moles can be dangerous. I know this because the other night I tripped over the fresh molehill in the garden that was over twenty centimetres high and considerably more than that across and I mention this because a mole excavation has previously been responsible for a much more high profile accident than this. King William III, the Prince of Orange, had an unfortunate incident involving a molehill with irreversible and mortal consequences. In February 1702, whilst riding his horse in Richmond Park in London, the horse stumbled and fell over a molehill, causing the King to fall and break his collarbone. A subsequent fever and illness followed and in the following month he died, much to the joy of the Scots who had spent many years under his steely persecution. This is the reason why even today the Scottish Jacobites raise a toast to ‘The Gentleman in Black Velvet’ and why the statue of King William in St. James Square in London depicts a molehill at its base.

On the whole moles are regarded as cute and likeable creatures whose mistake is being in the wrong place at the wrong time but whose unfortunate visiting card is an almighty mess behind them as a result of their nocturnal activities. Unlike some pests however, such as rats, birds and insects, which spread disease and cause damage to property, moles generally do not appear to cause any real harm other than leave behind an unsightly ‘spoil hill’ as a dramatic calling card to show where they have been.

Moles feed on small invertebrate animals like worms living underground but supplement them with insects and their larvae and have to eat about half their weight in food every day. Every adult mole requires approximately twenty worms a day to live and since they cannot put on body fat, they have to eat throughout the entire year and do not hibernate. As a result, they are most active in the autumn and early spring when dining conditions suit them best of all.

Moles are very territorial anti-social animals that mate for one day, once a year, and then spend the rest of the year alone. As they live on average for about four years this means only about four shags in an entire lifetime. What sort of an existence is that I have to ask? After annual sex, moles have litters of up to seven pups and as they mature into adults, each mole sets about establishing its own tunnel network and will dig at speeds of up to four metres per hour. That’s a lot of tunnels and a lot of damage. I am becoming fearful of the house and garden disappearing into a pit of subsidence on account of the activity of the mole! I am not exagerating when I say that my mole can shift even more earth that the Thunderbirds mole rescue machine so you can imagine just how much damage it is doing!

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