Whilst out on a day’s walk along the footpaths around Battle, Frances and I paused to check the route. A grey-haired figure crouched over his quad bike, came speeding across the field and pulled up nearby.
“Good morning” He bid us in a cheery voice.
“Are you the farmer” Frances asked.
“No” He replied, “I’m just the mole-catcher.”
At this he proceeded to tell us about what he was doing, laying traps in the ground to catch the ‘gentlemen in velvet’. We asked if we might watch him at his work, of which he was only too willing to oblige.
“I don’t like killing things” He said. Which was an interesting confidence for a mole-catcher to share with a couple of complete strangers. “I just do it for the farmer, because he’s always been good to me”.
“I once reluctantly agreed to trap a mole for an elderly lady, who had mole hills on the lawn. When I came back I found one caught by its foot in my trap. I felt so sorry for the poor thing, I let it go”
Doubtless mole-catching is a solitary business, so he must have felt that a pair of eager listeners were heaven sent and proceeded to give us a treatise on moles and their catching.
Evidently they live in a system of underground tunnels, with the spoil being pushed onto the surface as mole-hills. The mole hills make the growing grass dirty, something the discerning cows apparently turn their noses up at and thereby impacting the hay crop’s value. Further, it seems the mole hills become as hard as concrete in the summer, causing damage to hay-cutting blades.
All this he explained as he went about his business of finding the position of a tunnel, using a prod. Once located, a divot of earth was removed and “voila”, there was Mr Mole’s motorway. Next he took a pair of small stainless-steel traps from an old ice-cream container and placed them back-to-back blocking the run, the unsuspecting mole’s fate was effectively sealed, whatever direction he approached from. Next our man carefully shovelled loose earth around the traps and returned the divot. A white stick marked the position of the traps, for when he returned in a day or two.
How enlightening it was to learn first-hand about the business of mole-catching, an occupation that has existed for centuries. Traditional practice was for dead moles to be hung in gruesome collections on a nearby branch. Not-so our reluctant mole-catcher, his preference was to bury them in their runs. In the words of Ewan McColl “Through all their lives they dug a grave ….”
Although moles are found throughout Britain, for some reason they are not found in Ireland. It would appear that snakes were not the only things banished by Saint Patrick.