0 Mountains of molehills across Britain

moles.jpgMoles, the destructive pests that so infuriate gardeners and groundsmen, are on the increase throughout Britain.

A decade of favourable conditions has led to a booming mole population, while this spring's warm and wet weather has increased the mole's destructive activities still further, according to experts.

In demand: Molecatcher Jeff Nicholls at work in Berkshire. Despite his efforts the mole population is prospering

Thanks to the endearing character in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, many people have a soft spot for the short-sighted creature, with its shovel-like paws.

In the Eighties, however, the damage caused by moles was calculated at £2.5 million a year.

That figure is now thought to have at least quadrupled as they tunnel under lawns and golf courses or dig beneath crops.

Their numbers are estimated to have increased by as much as 65 per cent in the past decade, to about 33 million.

Stephen Scotcher, of Debenham, in Suffolk, said: "I've never seen the moles as bad as they are this year. They have made a complete mess of the lawn.
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"I've been getting about 15 molehills a week. I love my garden and this has been very frustrating."

Stephen Wombwell, whose family owns Newburgh Priory, a stately home near Coxwold, North Yorkshire, has seen his "mole control" bill double in the past three years, to almost £1,000. The property, which is open to the public, covers 40 acres.

"Last year we started to see a big increase in the problem.

"One doesn't mind a few moles, but when it gets to the point where one can't even get on to various portions of the lawn for the number of molehills, then it isn't so good," said Mr Wombwell.

As well as being a nuisance for gardeners, the mole is a problem for farmers. The earth thrown up in molehills can spoil grass and lead to poor-quality silage.

There is also a risk of their damaging machinery, while mole runs may disturb roots and hamper plant growth. Molehills can also cause injuries to horses - and riders.

Godfrey DIY, a chain of hardware stores that sells mole traps and other deterrents, has seen a 64 per cent increase in sales in the past 12 months.

Barry Godfrey, the managing director, said: "I've been staggered about how many we've been selling."

Molecatchers say the mole population boom can be traced to the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak, when so much of the countryside was off-limits and catchers were unable to get on to the land.

Since then, a range of factors has also proved favourable to mole numbers.

These include a European Union ban on the use of strychnine as a means of control - after which measure many catchers left the business.

Moles have also benefited from recent warm winters and wet weather, which leaves the earth soft, moist and easy to work.

The rise in mole numbers and last year's strychnine ban have led to a renaissance for the traditional rural role of the molecatcher, which involves setting traps - designed to kill the moles instantly - in the ­tunnels.

The catchers often charge the client per mole caught, each one costing about £45. While molecatchers used to find many uses for the animal's velvet-like pelts, they are now used only by fly fishermen.

Brian Alderton has set up the British Traditional Molecatchers Register and is running training courses to recruit more numbers to meet demand.

"Trapping is the most environmentally sensitive way to control numbers. There are fewer and fewer people doing anything about moles now, so the population is getting bigger and bigger."

Extraordinary earth movers:

• Just 6in long, a mole can dig up to 100 yards a day, bulldozing 13lb of earth in 20 minutes, making it as efficient, pound for pound, as a JCB.

Some of this soil is forced on to the surface. Up to eight moles can live in 2½ acres.

• A mole was blamed for the death of William III in 1702, after complications from a broken collarbone suffered when his horse stumbled on a mole's burrow.

His enemies are said to have toasted "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat".

And ways to get them to move on:

• Noise: an open "musical" card stuck in the hole can discourage moles (at least while the battery lasts), as can a bottle positioned so as to whistle in the wind.

• Movement: stick lots of plastic windmills into grass. Moles are sensitive to the minor vibrations.

• Scent: sprinkle perfume or chopped garlic in the tunnels. Moles dislike the smell.

See Pitchcare shop for mole traps

www.the telegraph.co.uk

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