It's been a David and Goliath battle. But I knew I would win in the end even if I had to fight a little dirty. I'm not the keenest of gardeners but if I must have a mini-estate then at least it will have fine grass lawns. Each spring I work hard to remove the thatch and remove the cubic metre after cubic metre of moss. It's not a labour of love, but merely a 'must-do' given that we live in an area logically called Mossley. Even if I have left the weeds to grow two feet high in the borders once the lawn has some nice straight stripes rolled into it, the garden looks surprisingly well tended......and un-molested.
The first mole hills popped up near our hen house close to the neighbours fence. I can't help thinking this was our jealous neighbour's mole and he carelessly let it stray into our garden. Perhaps with some words of encouragement? Not that I blame the mole:the grass is definitely greener on my side of the fence! With the amount of food my wife and daughter scatter on the grass for the hens it is no surprise that the worms in our gardens are easily mistaken for small snakes, they are so big. But c'est la vie, I'm not going to have an issue with a mole making a couple of humps in the less visible parts of my garden, and besides everyone says moles are good for creating drainage.
Although it was messy, I didn't even take issue with the mole when I discovered he had pushed up two enormous mole hills in our garage. Which has a concrete floor. But he had exploited a few cracks in the poorly laid concrete and forced the soil up through it. Moles, despite their tiny size are indeed incredibly strong.
But when a trail of mole hills appeared over night right across the top of our lawn, near our conservatory, I concluded this little creature was becoming a nuisance. Something would have to be done. Now my wife and daughter refuse to allow any of God's creatures to be harmed unless they can find a way to make it taste delicious with a newly thought up gourmet recipe. So I'm not allowed to harm the fox that murders our girls, the hens in the garden, and I'm not allowed to kill the mole that destroys our garden. I have two options: remove it humanely or hope that one of the plethora of cooking programmes on TV reveals to viewers how roast mole is now the latest haute cuisine.
I do find Gordon Ramsey quite entertaining only because the show has little to do with cooking and a lot to do with confrontation and verbal violence. But it is the only cooking show I can tolerate for more than the time it takes to boil an egg so I have little chance of picking up a mole recipe. ( I have since found this www.flickr.com/photos/37919560@N00/5202723832/in/photolis... )
Determined to spoil his day as much as he was spoiling my garden, I resort to poking the hose pipe down Mr Mole's hole and leaving it turned on for two days. As soon as I get home from work on the second day I rush to turn it off quickly. My day at Manchester airport organising exports around the world has been ruined ever since the thought got into my head that all that water disappearing under my garden lawn is creating one of those sinkholes like they have in America, into which whole houses disappear.
Did I drown the mole or merely 'encourage' him to move away to a drier area? I stamp the soil of the molehills down into hard brown flat grass-less discs which when viewedfrom a short distance appear like an archipelago of little islands stretching across a green sea of grass. Magically no more molehills appear. For two days. That's when four mole hills appeared before the sun came up next morning. By the evening there were five. And after the full moon of the next night there were eight in a line across the bottom of the garden. It looked like a B-52 had dropped a stick of 1000 lb bombs. Now, this was war! And I wanted to go nuclear. But I have no shot gun (and besides my wife and daughter would hear if I used it) and I had no gin traps. I reasoned I couldn't even attach a hosepipe to the exhaust on my car and humanely gas them for fear that the mole tunnels run under our house and I would exterminate my family with carbon monoxide toxic gas seeping up into our home. I tried using the garden fork to methodically spear the ground every inch over the affected areas, but it was hard work, and seemed pointless because I had no idea where the mole was at any one time. And even if I did attack the right bit, I was willing to bet that bugger would end up with two fork prongs plunging harmlessly into the ground either side of him. No, eventually I bought a couple of "Humane mole traps" from ebay. These are just a plastic tube with a little round door in each end which can be pushed open from the outside but not pushed open from the inside. But, as I discover that doesn't mean a mole can't get out! The traps arrived in the mail and were waiting for me when I got home late one evening from work.
"Humane mole traps" it says on the packet. "Stop moles in their tracks"... oh yeah, that's a bit corny. "The mole can get in but can't get out", it continues. Well, isn't that just the idea of a trap?
Armed with a spade and a metal spike I strode out with desperate determination. Using the metal spike I pierced the ground close to a mole hill feeling for the emptiness of the tunnels underground. The tunnels didn't go straight between any two molehills. They didn't even go in a zig-zaggy demented course between holes. They went everywhere, and in all directions.. Having prodded and tested around I found areas where I thought I had a 'straight' stretch of tunnel, but digging down often found it was just a chamber or a hole with a tunnel at one end but blocked off at the other. It took a while to find a clean tunnel and dig out a suitable hole to insert the trap into. But by the time I had dug holes to find a suitable tunnel to put my two traps in I've lost any sense of try to preserve the visual beauty of my lawn. So engrossed in trapping the blighter, I've just ruined as much of the garden in twenty minutes with a spade as the mole has taken a week to do. But who cares? I'm no longer bothered in the visual aesthetics of an Englishman's grass lawn, I just want that little bugger's neck.
I slept poorly that night, wondering if every jet that passed over our house on its way to Manchester Airport could be a B-52 and visualising the lawn next morning with another stick of craters across it. Peering out in the dawn light I counted just the same total 32 mole hills spread across all the garden that there were yesterday. Clearly he was having a rest, and I would leave the traps until I got home from work.
But my daughter checked them and to her joy and my ecstasy she reported there was a mole in the trap. Neither she nor my wife had seen any recipes for moles on the numerous cooking programmes in the intervening days so it was resolved she would take Mr Mole and re-home him when she went out in an hour with her boyfriend for a walk in the nearby Peak District National Park. There he could make as many 'peaks' as he liked to his heart's delight. But on her return to collect the mole in his trap....no mole.
I was devastated to get this news by text at work. It seemed being nice and humane wasn't working at all. I'm told I became touchy and angry at work and generally everyone avoided me, unaware of the reason for my mood swing. Would I never be free of this beast?
"It has been a nice day", my wife said, referring to the weather, when I got home on the Friday evening. So, perhaps she had been able to enjoy the sunshine, but I wasn't feeling sunny. After grabbing some pizza, vital energy for a battle-fatigued soldier, I headed out to the warzone. I dug more holes. I cleared more soil. I made a greater mess of my priceless lawn. I laid my traps, wishing that they were Soviet antitank mines instead. And set paving stones over them, and only then returned to the house as the evening light started to dim.
Thirty minutes later I went to check my traps. Bingo! There he was, little snout sniffling out of the holes in the trap sides. But this time I took no chances and got him into a shoe box as fast as possible. After a quick portrait photo for my flickr friends, and as proof that I am humane before I kill him.....no, just kidding, I set off into the gathering gloom towards the nearby golf course with my shoe box. Woah, you golfers are saying! No, of course I didn't take him to the immaculately manicured 8th Hole, I took him to a suitably rough bit of shady woodland with deep soil just near the 12th Green and set the box down in the long grass. At first he did not climb out, but after a minute getting his bearings he stepped out and within a distance of about 5 centimetres, two inches, and a time of 10 seconds (I kid you not).....he was gone from sight. I could hear little 'cracks' and pops and see the earth quivering but already my mighty mole was underground. Amazing! And on the way back home with my empty shoe box I reflected on the battle with my little adversary. Total respect. I wished him a long career in mine engineering.
Mole wars, PART 2 : www.flickr.com/photos/pentlandpirate/9637677669/