I SELDOM cross swords with the little gentleman in black velvet. There was an occasion a couple of years ago where we fell out about the vegetable garden, but mostly I have no quarrel with him.
To me, a lawn looks far more interesting punctuated with molehills: I like daisies, moss and dandelions in lawns too. But others do not, and as a kindness to a friend, I went to see about a marauding mole.
I have to say that the legions of molehills marching across the velvet sward were excessive even by my lax standards, and one could only marvel at what had been achieved.
Though the ground was frozen to an appreciable depth, this tiny creature, just the length of the span of a man’s hand, with shovel-shaped forefeet about as big as the first joint of his little finger, had ploughed an erratic path hither and yon, through the flowerbeds, round in a ragged circle here and another there, and back again.
Moles do a huge amount of damage on farmland, whereas in gardens the issue is generally one of aesthetics, but I could see that this mole or company of moles would have to go.
They are sensitive creatures, and though their tiny black button eyes see little, they are aware of light and dark, and acutely responsive to air pressure changes, so if you make a hole in their tunnels to set traps, they can feel the difference unless you are very cunning or they are being careless.
They have a powerful sense of smell, and shy away from human scent on traps; as the best traps are strongly sprung to give an instant death, they can be hard to set without getting your own scent on them.
You need a thin strong probe to feel into the ground and find which way the tunnels run, and most of all where they start, because a trap is better set at the start of a mole run than at the finish, in case it finds enough food before it gets to the end and so does not go that far this time.
Lifting the turf carefully, you scoop out enough space for the trap and ease it in, having first smoothed any rough areas of earth because the mole will feel the difference and shy away from where you want him to go.
When they travel their underground paths, their little bristly tails stick straight up and feel the top of the tunnel, so registering the slightest disturbance.
Mole trappers have to be far more cunning than most. And then when you have concealed your trap so that no daylight can penetrate, you have to mark where you have left it, or risk not being able to find it again.
I set four traps, and on my return the following day, one mole was the result. Leaving the traps down for another few days produced no more moles and no more molehills, so all this garden sculpture was the result of that one little being.
He was beautifully designed for his job: long sharp teeth, spade-shaped forefeet for digging, paddle-shaped hindfeet for pushing himself along, supple pointed snout for questing for worms, dodgem tail for checking his roof space, marvellously soft black jacket that did not hold the soil.
You would need a lot of moles for a traditional moleskin waistcoat. What a shame he had, in this big garden, chosen the lawns and flowerbeds for his hunting, rather than the more natural conservation areas around the perimeter.
That night and for several days after, we had heavy rain, which would have flooded the mole tunnels. That was just as well, for there was another mole working the garden perimeter that had not been noticed except by me, and as long as it stays out of sight, no harm should become it. The lawn tunnels being rendered unsafe should dissuade another mole from coming in, for a while at least.