Friday, June 18, 2021
HomeNewsNotes from the sticks: The great mole hunt

Notes from the sticks: The great mole hunt

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WALKING along the road to the next village, I came upon an unusual and not very pleasant sight: a dozen or so mole carcases hanging on a barbed wire fence. I have found a picture of a similar scene but it will not be to everyone’s taste so it is behind this link.

At the time I imagined the idea of displaying the corpses was pour encourager les autres, and thought this was a pretty poor idea since moles spend almost every minute underground and are nearly blind anyway. However on reading up about it I discovered that it is a tradition for mole catchers to show the bodies so that the farmer can see how many have been caught and pay up accordingly.

I have tried to find out the going rate for catching moles and it varies enormously, mainly depending on whether you are a gardener or a farmer. This website quotes a pricing structure for farmers which claims to work out at as little as £4 per mole with a normal catch rate of 50 or 55 a day.

Gardeners are typically charged much more – one catcher quotes £80 for the first mole and £60 each for subsequent one, and another charges £40 and £10 respectively. Both are on a ‘no mole, no fee’ basis.

Until 2006 moles could be killed with the poison strychnine, with which catchers would lace earthworms, the main prey of moles. It was banned by the EU on the grounds of danger to humans and the environment so now traps are used. Unfortunately these may not kill at once so unless they are frequently checked the mole could suffer a lingering death.

Why kill them anyway? I have no patience with gardeners who get rid of them because they make a mess of the lawn.

I would be thrilled to have molehills as this would mean the chance of meeting a mole – I have seen one only once, in the 1950s in the sand dunes at Beadnell in Northumberland (apparently dunes are an unusual habitat for moles). The tunnels that moles dig with their powerful front feet are useful at aerating the soil and improving drainage. How much trouble is it to spread out the soil and leave the moles alone? Moles are not endangered, but killing creatures for cosmetic reasons is not acceptable in my opinion.

It may be a different matter for farmers since it seems that the soil that the moles dig up and leave on the surface can carry the bacterium listeria which could kill livestock. Molehills also encourage weeds and the tunnels can damage drainage systems and water courses. Obviously I am not an expert so I will take the farmers’ word that moles are a nuisance to be got rid of.

I thought it would be interesting to finish with a film of a mole at work. It wasn’t so easy to find a decent one on YouTube – most are about trapping and killing them.

You can find some basic information about moles here on the Wildlife Trusts website.

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I spotted this sign in the village on Friday:

I have had goose eggs before so I bought one. Here it is pictured with a large hen’s egg:

Alan and I shared it fried for lunch. Delicious!

Goose eggs are available for quite a short time around now. They are much more like hen’s eggs than duck eggs are – duck eggs are a lot richer.  

The best eggs I ever had were gull’s eggs which were on the menu at a very posh restaurant in London (it was a birthday treat, not a regular occurrence) about 20 years ago, and I think they were £6 each, served soft-boiled with brown bread and butter. The yolks were rich and creamy beyond compare. According to this fascinating article in Country Life, they are the eggs of black-headed gulls (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) and are in season for just three weeks a year. They may be collected only under licence and strict conditions.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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