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Mole Control
by Jim Arthur


Moles are reported to be invading golf courses where moles had not been a problem for years. This in my view is nothing to do with the ban on worm-killers resulting in improved food supplies, but to a wet winter and resultant flooding driving moles out of low lying environments into drier ones.

To effectively control moles, it helps to know their habits. Most ineffectual attempts are characterised by breaking every known rule of mole-catchers. In my youth I was taken under the wing of one venerable expert who in succinct sentences educated me in the ways of mole-catchers - and life ! Since time immemorial, every man's hand has been against the mole, whose earth-works infuriate farmers, gardeners and greenkeepers alike. Yet, moles are far from an endangered species. Their habit of popping up where they are least expected can be explained by their live-style. They have few natural enemies save man, except themselves !

Moles live short brutish lives and irrespective of sex or age will attack (and eat) any other mole that they meet apart from a short spell in the breeding season. During this period males travel long distances, sometimes over ground, in search of mates - who do not always welcome them. Moles incidentally can turn around in tunnels a little wider than their own girth and can swim well. They will return within hours of temporarily flooded runs drying out. There is a distinct pattern in mole colonies, with a network of shallower food runs, but above all, a main run or runs to water. Moles feed by racing up the food runs (4 km/hr !) mopping up any invertebrate that has fallen into the tunnel and cannot easily escape. They work these runs on a regular four-hourly cycle.

Mole hills are the result of the enormously energetic heaving up of soil resulting from new tunnelling - equivalent to a 12 stone miner moving 12 tons of coal in an hour. Apart from shooting straight into a mole hill with a 12-bore shotgun, there is no chance of catching a mole by putting a trap in a mole hill - yet how often is this done. Finding a food run by probing between hills gives a better result, but the surest way is to find the main run, which is usually to water. Supervised trapping on such a run can clear out a colony in a day. The fact that new hills may be pushed up within a week does not indicate residual survival but re-invasion by migrant moles seeking out new territories. The young must move or be killed by the adults. They can travel one km or more on the surface and if they find an abandoned tunnel they are quick to colonise it.

A passing knowledge of mole anatomy may also help in trapping them. Moles have poor eyesight, partly because of their subterranean life. Their eyes measure only 1 mm (!) and can distinguish only between light and dark. A torch flashed onto a mole on the surface at night is ignored but worms react instantaneously. They have poor hearing and little sense of smell thus can only detect earthworms when they are within 5 cm. They are however highly sensitive to not only vibration, but to changes in air pressure (as with an on-coming mole pushing air in front of it down a tunnel like a tube train). They are also sensitive to heat and cold and even to infra-red radiation. This they achieve through highly sensitive whiskers (vibrissae), receptors and papillae, which is why they can stop dead on detecting even a crumb of soil that should not be there. With such a vulnerable snout they cannot risk running into the walls of their tunnels !

This knowledge helps to understand how to trap moles. Find the run (by probing or observation). Cut out the turf and soil down to it, use a spoon (no need to worry about scent) to remove every particle of soil in the run. Insert the scissors or barrel trap, taking care to leave no protruding edges. Do not bother to replace the soil but cover the excavation with turf. Check the trap (visually) at frequent intervals. If a mole is not caught within 8 hours , try again somewhere else - otherwise some bunny-hugger will steal the trap if it is left unattended. Sometimes two aggressive moles are caught in the same trap. My old mole catcher tutor, showing me a scissors trap with a mole in each 'claw' remarked "each must have thought his opponent packed a hell of a punch".

All other control methods, (e.g. moth balls, exhaust fumes) save poisoning are a waste of time except perhaps earthworm control e.g. by soil acidification. Poisoning with strychnine is definitely not a DIY task. Usually a length of poison-soaked wool is threaded through a big earthworm and short lengths inserted in the runs. I treasure the memory of another gnarled mole catcher showing me the tricks of the trade, popping bits of lethal worm into runs with nicotine stained fingers and then drawing heavily on the last half-inch of his fag - determined to get the last puff (luckily not his own) !

With every man's hand against him, the mole survives and thrives in virtually every part of the country, save only where acid soils contain no earthworms. I secretly admire that 'little gentleman in black velvet' of the old Jacobite toast, whose persistence and single-mindedness triumph over so many obstacles and enemies.