The Mole Men

This is the time of year when that stripey, freshly mown lawn is edging its way to the top of every diligent gardener's list. But what do you do if your lawn looks more like a scene from World War II? Liane Oldham meets the molecatchers

The humble mole is not usually an animal you give much thought to unless, of course, he has decimated your lawn, paddock or sports field. However, these “little men in velvet jackets” have been with us for thousands of years, managing to survive amidst harsh conditions in a subterranean world.

Unfortunately the world they create also conflicts with our world above ground. That’s when you usually reach for the phone and contact your local pest controller, but there is another, much more ethical and humane way of dealing with this mysterious animal if you really want to get rid of them.

Traditional mole catchers still exist, they abide by the rules of the Guild of British Molecatchers which upholds the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to ensure no unnecessary suffering is caused to the animal.

In the old days, nearly every village had a molecatcher. They were often eccentric characters, moving from one farm to another in search of their quarry and armed with their own traps. The potential suffering of the mole in traps was naturally minimised in those days as it was in the molecatcher’s financial interest to inspect traps regularly and so be able to move on as quickly as possible.

In the 1800s the rise of new methods – poison and gas compounds, fractured the mole catching community. These new methods required little experience or skill and meant that there was no further requirement to inspect traps regularly. They also often produced no evidence that the mole had, in fact, been dealt with and so often led to arguments over payment.

Fortunately, following the ban of poison, the restriction of certain products and the passing of the Welfare Act of 2006, the number of traditional molecatchers began to rise again.

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Today’s traditional molecatcher has both a moral and legal obligation to reduce suffering to the mole. Two such men are Dick Clark, from East Grinstead and Jeff Nicholls who is a trainer in the traditional art of molecatching and runs shows at agricultural events across Sussex as well as  schools, garden and village clubs.

However, how do they reconcile their obvious interest and concern for these mysterious creatures with the fact that they actually have to dispose of them for a client?

“It’s no secret that some people do actually want a mole removed from their garden, farm or park at the end of the day,” says Jeff. “It is illegal to trap a mole and move it to another part of the country and against the Animal Welfare Act. You would be releasing an already weakened animal into a strange area where it is highly likely to be easy prey for predators anyway.

“I have been fascinated by moles since I was a boy and my aim has always been to push for people to use properly trained catchers, who inspect their traps daily and ensure that minimum suffering occurs.”

Many pest controllers will ignore trap checking in favour of another job that brings in another income stream but this, of course, can cause much suffering to Mr Mole.

Jeff has trained 15 traditional molecatchers from Sussex, Dick Clark being one of them.

“I became a molecatcher as I do a lot of gardening for other people and have often been asked if I can deal with moles,” says Dick.

“Moles have always intrigued me, they are really amazing animals, which is why I wanted to learn the traditional way of catching them in the most humane way. The general public know virtually nothing about these little clever little creatures, apart from leaving plenty of spoil heaps!

Size for size the mole is the greatest earth mover in the world. Digging is important to its survival. However, the need to burrow is not just a random search for food as commonly thought. It is a carefully orchestrated plan to also inhabit new areas and find that all important mate as well as harvesting food.

Mr Mole requires a complex network of tunnels to also survive. This it creates by either scraping and removing or compressing and lifting soil. The mole’s body is designed to propel extraordinary power to its shovel-like paws.

Staying alive to a mole is a mammoth task. It needs to eat almost two thirds of its own body weight in a diet of mainly bugs, grubs and, of course, the all important worm each day if it is to stay alive. This is why if it is left to languish in a trap for too long, it could easily starve to death.

“Being a traditional molecatcher you are trapping in the most humane way,” says Dick. “The spring traps kill instantly without the pain of suffering long term and they are checked daily in line with the rules of The Guild of British Molecatchers. Pest controllers use chemicals which are not cost effective, damage the environment and do not properly serve the mole or the client.”

Moles are considered relatively mysterious animals because you never really see them. Catching moles by traditional means is not easy, and every situation is different.

“I enjoy this challenge,” says Dick. “You are always learning and it is very important that you are properly trained by an expert which is why I learnt from Jeff. It is really satisfying when your clients are delighted with your work. I love being outside and I find it uplifting to continue traditional methods that have stood the test of time. Traditional molecatchers have been around for centuries.”

There has often been lack of respect for these intriguing British animals. Still today bad practices are employed that inflict cruelty and possible suffering which needs to be addressed and prohibited. I leave the last word with the expert.

“There is always the argument that with any form of animal control there is the possibility that some level of suffering might occur,” says Jeff.

“This has been addressed, to some degree, by the Animal Welfare Act. Hopefully this will be extended to ensure that further guidance to the control of these animals will see this traditional method for molecatching continues in the modern world.”

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