Thursday, 17 August 2017

They may leave mounds of earth on your lawn but moles are not all bad

MOLES, like badgers, will move into a territory where the species has been eradicated by trapping or shooting if there is still a source of food there.

So how to prevent these brown heaps which reduce pasture and disfigure lawns?

Scaring off with windmills poked into the soil, or stamping on the hills may be better, particularly with the larger mounds which will be nests or laying up areas in a drier part of the field. The mole must leave the nest at least every four hours and indeed will die of starvation if it does not feed for 10 hours.

When it catches a worm it will bite off the tail then flip it around and, starting at the head, squeeze out all the earth at the tail end before crunching it with its tiny sharp teeth. The main tunnels from the nest may be identified by drier trails in the grass and an experienced mole-catcher will recognise the larger nest mounds.

The female ventures above ground to collect dry grass to line the nest before she gives birth to two to seven young in May but unless food is very plentiful only one or two will survive. They are encouraged from the nest in June or July and live two to three years. The males build separate, larger nest chambers, also grass-lined. They are larger and fiercer, biting at the throat as they fight each other to the death. They will travel above ground in search of new territory and can swim with those paddle-shaped forelimbs, so well adapted for digging.

Buzzards will eat them but owls and stoats will not, although the stoat may use a mole nest as a burrow for her young, instead of a hollow in a tree. If you find a mole and pick it up, it may squeak in protest. While they degrade and contaminate good pasture, they do provide surface drainage and improve land by bringing up soil from below. In winter they feed on wireworms, cockchafer grubs and leather jackets and so reduce pests.

Likewise, the stoat feeds on mice, rats, voles and rabbits as well as hares, birds and eggs, so is to be encouraged by the farmer near his grain store but trapped by the gamekeeper near his pheasants. I am sure the stoat I saw would have been scenting for mice in the undergrowth or looking for pheasant nests under the hedge, where it could roll away an egg under its chin.

I have seen a stoat chasing a rabbit in circles on a sunny bank in Stonor Park, both oblivious to my presence in the heat of the chase, until they disappeared underground.

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