Friday, 9 January 2009

To mole or not to mole?

"Bother!" "O blow!"

"I hate spring-cleaning!"

"Mole found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow."

"This is fine," he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!"

Kenneth Grahame "The Wind in the Willows."

How can anyone fail to love a creature with such sentiments? And, should you ever catch sight of a mole, what a beautiful coat of darkbrown /grey velvet, what an exquisite little snout, what fascinating paws so cleverly designed for serious burrowing.

But, seriously though, as with that other farm "pest", the rabbit, there has to be a limit to the farmer's tolerance.

There was a time, up here in The Dales - certainly within the last twenty years, when gamekeepers set up macabre strings of dead creatures on barbed wire - moles, crows, stoats, weasels, mice, rats; anything they considered a pest would be killed and strung on barbed wire, I suppose to advertise their skill in catching such things.

Thankfully that time seems to be in the past. I certainly haven't seen any such sights for a long time, and there seems to be a more enlightened view these days. Any animal has as much right to life as any other - in theory - but anyone who works the land has to make sure that mice and rats are kept down and away from animal feed and that rabbits (pretty as they undoubtedly are) do not overrun a field. It is said that ten rabbits can eat as much grass in a field as one cow.

Vermin has to be controlled because it will never be eradicated. But somehow I find the plight of the mole much more thought-provoking.

He is a particularly beautiful little mammal and there is something rather nice about the fact that he can be burrowing away under our feet and we know nothing of it. He is definitely not the dear, shy little creature portrayed by Kenneth Grahame - he is a real fighter when it comes to one of his own kind.

But can I put the case for the farmer? As my photograph (taken yesterday on a walk) shows, molehills do destroy a considerable part of a pasture. This field has a flock of Swaledale sheep in it and the whole of the corner in the photograph is a no-go area at a time when grass is not growing and is in short supply.

Once the grass begins to grow in the spring then the molehills inhibit the growth.

When it comes to haymaking/silaging time, when the grass is longer and the molehills are hidden from view, then often the soil hills get baled up with the hay. This means two things:-

Often the machinery is badly damaged by the soil and stones.

When the bale of silage/hay is opened up in winter for animal feed there is soil in it and this poses a serious threat of disease.

So there is the dilemma. On the one hand you could say that every animal has a right to life - after all, the mole does not differentiate between a patch of waste ground and a well-managed meadow - it is all god's earth to him. On the other hand, doesn't the farmer have a duty to keep his land and his animals in tip-top condition?

The seconds are out. Who's side are you on?


acornmoon said...

This is a hard one, I try to go along with Christina Rossetti, "Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep." but when Mr Rat came to live in our garden we called vermin control, however the bait boxes did not eradicate the pest, in the end or dog dug a huge hole which we took to be the nest. I think the rat moved house after that.

jinksy said...

I like the mole, because he gives us a whole new meaning to 'getting the hump'...

Teresa said...

Another one of those sticky questions in life that lands smack in the grey area. Not too many things in life clear cut, are there? I love to watch critters; but if I were a farmer with my livelihood and the welfare of my family depending on a well run farm I'd no doubt see those "adorable little critters" from a different perspective!

mand said...

Thanx for commenting on my blog! {waving}

When it comes to animals i'm still a six-year-old and i still like thinking about the little mole with the sensible windows spaced along the roof of his corridor... that fluffy reaction includes most 'yukky' creatures too - toads, rats, lizards. I do see the pest argument as well but i wish i didn't have to! esp with my neighbour having terrible rabbit trouble.

Annie Wicking said...

One must understand both side of the problem before one can pass judgement.

Each has a right a fair life and both work hard for their living.

But I'm neither judge nor jury nor do I stand in your shoes to know what is the right thing to do if I was a farmer and I needed to work the land.

I wish you and your family all the very best, my dear friend.((Hugs))


The Weaver of Grass said...

Yes it is a dilemma acornmoon.

The Weaver of Grass said...

That is a cheery idea jinksy.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Nice to see all of you take a similar view to me - can't decide. There is no such dilemma for the farmer - he is firmly on the side of eradication I am afraid.

Elizabeth said...

My father, the most peaceful of men, had a 'thing' about moles.
They used to dig up his lawn.
He bought traps.
I cried.
The gamekeeper who lived near us tacked moleskins on his barn walls. So soft to touch.
Friends in Wiltshire have a 'thing' about badgers.
Can't vote because we live in a city and our world is so different...

Crafty Green Poet said...

its a difficult one, certianly for me thinking of rabbits, they're adorable creatures but pet rabbits are not the same as the wild ones that can wreak havoc for farmers and gardeners - yes a difficult dilemma

Loren said...

Are your moles our gophers.

I've always pretty much ignored moles because they airiatte the ground and their holes are pretty innocous.

But those kinds of mounds usually indicate you have gophers, at least here in America. They also tend to be much more destructive. I'd get rid of them if I had livestock because of the danger to the livestock.

Jennifer Jilks said...

That is a hoot, WoG. I have to preface by saying I just bought my husband a non-Xmas gift of a DVD: Wind in the Willows. He has a peculiar penchant for it, having viewed it in his late 30s & 40s. We are nature nuts and feed the birds & squirrels, and mice, apparently, as well as moles. The cats, in summer catch a couple a day.

That said, the domestic animals depend upon the pasture. There is a cycle of life and balance of nature. Obviously, since farmers have tried to eradicate them, and haven't, things seem to be balancing themselves out.

Thanks for posting on my blog. I read a previous post, and have been trying to hold to your 'news once/day' philosophy. It really makes a difference!

I cannot help but speak out, however. For aforementioned balance. As retired teacher I have heard the , 'he hit me back first' argument too much. Someone has to lay down arms and say, no more.

Thoughtful post! Nice to read you!

Bdogs said...

The farmers around here used to hang the carcasses of "wolves" (really coyotes) on the barbed wire, and they told me it was to deter the other coyotes...but they don't do it anymore, thank heaven, for it was a grisly sight over time.

I know what you mean about the killing issue. We have armadilloes who love to take a flower bed and upend all the plants in one night. Very irritating, actually, and they're not warm and fuzzy like the mole. And rabbits, well, they're the same everywhere.

We've dug trenches under our fences and buried strong wire to deter them from our vegetable garden. Come spring, we'll see.

Woman in a Window said...

Oh, this used to be a difficult one for me but then we had a nice little infestation of groundhogs, and let me assure you, those buggers can be mean. They ate my garden and chased me and my small children. I'd have rung their necks if I coulda gotten to them fast enough. There's plenty of land elsewhere for them. I was out for blood! And surprised at myself.

Poet in Residence said...

I am a mole and I live in a hole.

I remember in Lune Valley seeing a whole length of barbed wire fence hung with moles. About 20 years ago it was.
I believe some fell runners put moleskins in their shoes against blisters.
Our molehills are frozen solid at present. When they thaw I'll shovel them onto the compost heap.
I plan to plant something, maybe pumpkins, direct into the compost like I saw 2 years ago on an allotment in Norfolk.

Gramma Ann said...

Working around farms all my life, there comes a time when things have to be done that all don't agree with. So I understand the problem you are facing and the decision that has to be made. I think what is worse is when people go hunting for sport, with no intention of eating the meat. Just so they have a trophy to hang on the wall. Now that to me is cruelty to the animals and should be outlawed.

HelenMHunt said...

That is a difficult one. I wouldn't want to be faced with such decisions on a daily basis to be honest, but by being a consumer I rely on farmers to do their job so would respect their decisions.

Robyn said...

I don't suppose you would like to try my remedy.

I love your stunning banner photograph!

Mistlethrush said...

Interesting to hear the farmers' side of the argument - thanks.

I have to say we have moles in the garden but they aren't a problem. They live on the lowest level of the garden and never uphill to the garden-proper and lawn. I've never seem one yet although one day I could see one was moving through a surface tunnel because the soil sides bulged out as it moved along.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

A really difficult one, Weaver! I'm of the Christina Rosetti mind too in principle, but when your own animals' food supply is at risk it's different.

Your field does look as if coal prospectors have been through it!

I'm waiting excitedly for the signs of spring, because then I treat myself to sitting on the doorstep and reading the passage from The Wind in the Willows which you quoted.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I can only say that I am grateful not to have to make the choice! Also, I had no idea they made such a mess!!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Are moles the same as gophers? I don't think they are. Have just looked in various books, so think Loren they are completely different although both burrow.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Lovely to read all your comments and to see that you on the whole give the farmer some leeway - I feel exactly the same. Love the idea of planting pumpkins,melons or the like on the molehill soil. I know plenty of people who shovel it up as it is good loam. Also like the idea of the mole staying at a low level and not making the climb uphill. Now I think about it most of the molehills I see are on pretty flat level ground. They're not daft, are they? Thanks everybody.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Well-l-l-l! I must say I've never in my life seen such a sight!

The mole earthworks I've encountered here in Ohio are mere humps in the soil by comparison. Now, we have plenty of groundhogs (woodchucks) capable and willing to wreak hole-digging havoc in farm fields, but that photo of mole damage puts even our groundhogs to shame—and groundhogs are much, much larger than moles.

As to the dilemma regarding what to do—control or not control—I try and make such choices based on reasonable harmony. Coexsist if possible; relocate, redo, replant, rethink. Be willing to accept a certain amount of loss of a certain sort. Sow extra; leave a brush pile or rotting stump; plant borders and feed rows and do what you can to maintain a natural balance. But…and this is the tricky part…you have to be responsible to your livestock, neighbors, workers, and equipment. Machinery repair and replacement from mole-hole damage isn't exactly free of a carbon-footprint impact, which "green thinking" is currently making so much fuss over.

You can't live in the city, suburbs, or country without having to wage some sort of regular control against our fellow creatures—be it mice and rats, mosquitoes, or perhaps moles.

Someone once said, "All life is sustained by death." True, whether we like it or not. But I'd hate to be the one called to lift a hand against a mole…Wind in the Willows is one of my all-time favorite books.

Arija said...

I'll sit on the fence on this one.
Contaminated silage is not something I'd like to feed my animals and random slaughter I am certainly not for. There must be an alternative like raking over the molehills perhaps?

matthewr100 said...

The best success I have had with getting rid of moles is using the bait and applicator from

Hope this helps!

BT said...

Living among 'no nonsense' farmers in Ireland, I have to be with the farmer on this one. There, someone not on the fence. Lovely as they are, you have to protect your stock and livelyhood. Kill the little buggers!