Mole Trapping at Walcote Farm

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My Life Story on Mole Catching

by John Finnemore.

 

I find mole catching so easy now, that I am trying to pass on my skills so that other people do not have to wait 50 years before they find mole catching so easy. I first tried mole catching in the late 1950's, after my father bought 4 traps with 2 old traps that I found in the old granary. The problem I found was that I was spending such a lot of time resetting the traps, day after day and only catching, I believe 2 moles in a very long time, that I decided it was not worth the effort. The mole activity was not being reduced.

My father never tried to catch moles as he had never set a trap because it was always left for the old men in the 1920's and 30's, working on the farm to catch the moles for extra pocket money by selling the skins. Since the 1940's there has been no demand for mole skins and by the 1950's the men who use to catch moles had retired from farm work.

I can remember a chap coming after my poor effort of catching moles, who wanted to kill the moles with poison, which was not strychnine and the cost was going to be 50. This charge was on an area of ground of about 4 acres in one field. As there were a lot more fields with a mole problem, my father decided that it was just too much money to pay, as the mole situation as a whole would not have improved. Also there was no guarantee that the mole activity would stop, and the only guarantee would have been that 50 was spent, which was a lot of money in those days.

A few years later I decided to use poison which again was not strychnine to put on to worms. The easiest worms to find were in the compost heap and they were then covered in a powder of poison and then put into mole runs. The problem I had with this method was that I had no idea if any moles died, but all I do know is that I could not stop the mole problem.

I had to do a lot of chain harrowing of the fields to keep knocking down the molehills and rolling to roll in the stones which came to the surface. I can remember doing an experiment by chain harrowing an area of about an acre of ground, then going back to dinner at 1.00pm, (it was called dinner in those days and not lunch, where we had the main meal of the day). When dinner time finished at 2.00pm, I went and counted 13 molehills, which were not small, that had been made in one hour.

The main farming activity on the permanent grassland was sheep grazing and outdoor poultry rearing. This was ideal ground for moles on mostly medium loam soils along with plenty of water all the year round in ditches, watercourses and rivers.

Every grass field on the farm had to be mowed, either for hay or tidying up and cutting nettles and thistles. The molehills were a big problem to the mowing machine. We had a Ferguson rear mounted mower with a five foot cutter bar. The cutting bar was made up with triangular cutting sections that were riveted on. Often these sections would break because of the stones from the molehills and I would have to take 2 extra cutter bars with me to the field where I was mowing. If one cutting section broke there was no way that you could carry on mowing without putting into the mower a repaired cutter bar.

The mole problem got worse and worse each year with huge nesting molehills in the middle of some fields that I decided again that I had just got to find a way of catching these moles by using traps.

In March 1966 I now have 3 mole traps to start with from the 6 traps that I had in the late 1950's. The flat spring had broken on one of the old traps and 2 of the 4 traps that my father had bought, had been given to my brother after he married and moved out of the farmhouse.

I set the 3 traps without any luck, so I decided to ask Harry Redding who had worked on my uncle's farm which joined our farm, if he would tell me how to set a mole trap. He explained to me what to do, but it did not seem any different than what I was already doing. I tried again without success, so I then asked Harry if he would come and show me how to set a trap.

Harry would say "this mole run is not being used. Look at those grass roots hanging down with white fur on them. That shows that the moles are not using the run." I of course realised that if the mole run was being used, that fur would have been rubbed off the grass roots by the moles.

Harry also said "this is a good mole run, see how shiny it is." Now with the ground being damp, I could see how it was well used by moles. When setting the trap, I had to keep the bottom of the mole run smooth.

The system for mole catching in 1966 was to find a run being used, keep the bottom of the run smooth, and put the set trap into the run. Cover two sides of the trap with the turf that has been dug out to make the hole and add matted grass between and around the trap handles before adding soil to keep out the light. (This is no different from what is normal practice in 2010, except now I do not set traps this way).

I immediately started to catch moles, and as there were moles on about 65 acres with some fields a lot worse than others, I went off and bought 15 traps. Although I was catching moles nearly every day, I did find that I was resetting a lot of traps, without catching moles, because I was often checking the traps, 3 times a day.

The object on the left of the picture is a tool I made from a piece of wood, from a broom handle and a 6 inch nail.. This was used for many years to pat the mole run with it, by hand to make it smooth. The trap in the centre is the last surviving of 15 traps that I bought in March 1966, but the spring has been broken now for about 10 years. The trap on the right belongs to a neighbour, who bought it in the 1980's. The shape is identical to the traps that I bought in 1966 except that the wire holding the setting ring is a different shape and the jaws on the trap were very loose. The trap never caught any moles because the shape of the wire holding the setting ring was useless for catching moles. My neighbour had not realised that the wire was the problem, until he showed me the trap, twenty years later.

Eventually I began to realise that the 15 mole traps that I had bought, were not made as well as the 3 older traps that I first used. I found that the jaws of the trap would bend easily that made the gap for the mole to go through, too narrow and the traps quickly went rusty and the wire holding the setting ring was so thin that it soon rusted away. All this learning slows up the mole catching process.

From March 11th to the end of July 1966, I had caught 240 moles. I then had a rest from mole catching for 4 months before starting again on December 1st. I see from my records that I only have traps in 2 fields until the 14th when I had traps in 4 fields.

From the 22nd December 1966, I now have traps in 9 and later in 10 fields at any one time, after buying 12 more mole traps, making a total of 30. Some of these traps were set on land, 1 miles from the farmhouse. I was now determined to see the end of the mole problem.

These 12 new mole traps were slightly different to the 15 traps that I bought in March. Instead of having a coiled spring, they had a flat spring. I found in the course of trying to catch moles that the flat spring between the handles could move sideways which stopped the traps from closing properly.

In the 2 months December 1966 and January 1967, I had caught 230 moles. With traps set in every month of 1967, I caught another 42 moles and by the end of the year, I could not find any more moles to catch. The total catch was 512 moles.

I particularly remember a mole that I could not catch. There was one straight run with very short off shoots to a run that was coming from a hedge out into the field for only about 25 yards. I set a trap and the mole kept going round it. I set another trap and the same thing happened. I tried putting stones either side of the trap. I also used an old horseshoe drain pipe, turned it upside down, but that did not work. This run was being used at least twice every day and I eventually had 13 traps in the run of 25 yards. I thought this was absolutely stupid, but I did not know what else to do. I was desperate to catch this mole. Every day the mole would go pass all traps and fill them with soil, until one day after 6 weeks, the mole was caught in one of the middle traps in the run, but only by its front leg. It is the only time that I have caught a mole this way and it was the largest mole that I have ever seen. The front feet were huge and I have never seen anything of that size since.

What I know now, I could have caught those moles in less than half the time with a lot fewer traps.

A few years after catching all those moles, I realised that I had got more traps than I was using for mole catching so I sold all the traps with a flat spring which I bought in December 1966. I originally bought 12 of those traps but I only had 8 left to sell, as 4 traps had been lost. You know how it happens when you only put a bit of a twig or stick that you find in the field by the trap as a marker and the grass grows, the stick disappears and you forget where the traps have been set, especially when the traps are set in a lot of fields. I am a lot wiser nowadays by using a distinctive blue coloured electric fencing post. You live and learn.

Throughout the 1980's the coil spring on the traps kept breaking and I was getting short of traps, so I wanted to buy more traps. The traps that were being sold at the time from the local farm retailer were exactly like the trap on the right in the picture above. The traps were the same design as traps that I had previously and sold, except that the wire holding the trigger ring was a lot thicker and a different shape. I could see in the shop that I could not set the trap properly for it to be able to catch moles. I was not prepared to buy new traps that were not fit for the purpose and to have to convert them myself.

So what do I do, I go and buy 2 different types of traps, one tunnel trap and one fen trap, which I still have. To me this was a bad mistake. It was very rarely that I could catch moles with these traps, compared with my existing traps that I was using. The trap on the right was too small and there was no way that I could widen the jaws, because of the design, to give more space for a mole to go into the trap. As for the tunnel trap, it did not fit into the way I wanted to trap moles. I had to dig a hole, twice the size of my scissor traps, it was harder to set and it is very rare that 2 moles are caught in the trap before it is checked. My main problem with the tunnel trap, is that I had to uncover the hole to see if the trap had been triggered, compared with the scissor trap that could be seen from a distance, if the trap had been triggered.

In the 1990's, I wished I had bought the traps that I wouldn't buy in the 1980's because the alteration would have been the wire holding the setting ring, compared to the new traps that now needed the legs curving. Having said that, the traps that I did buy and curved the legs on them, turned out to be a much better buy.

Eventually I got so short of traps as I had only the original 3 traps that I started with and about 4 traps that were in constant need of attention by filing parts of the trap so it could be set, that I bought 2 traps like the one on the left. I persevered for several years with the traps without much success, in catching moles before the grass started growing in the spring. After I converted it to the trap on the right, I now found it was as good as my old 1920's and 1950's traps.

By the 1990's I had changed the way I covered the hole around the trap. Instead of using the turf to put over the hole, I was now using only matted grass that I put into the hole, to reduce the size of the hole around the trap. I was now getting less failures in catching the moles.

In the 1990's I started to use a T-handle to compact the soil because I realised that traps set on compacted soil, moles were easier to catch. Originally sometime after I first started mole catching, I found the best place to catch moles in a field was where a mole run went across a gateway or track where the ground had been consolidated by tractors. I could guarantee to catch moles every time that the trap was triggered. This gave me the idea to consolidate the ground at all other places where a mole trap is set by the method of compacting the mole run. At this stage, I did not use a hammer but banged the T-handle up and down by hand. This was the next step from using a piece of a broom handle with a 6 inch nail that I had used for many years. I now estimated that my mole catching percentage rate went up to 75%.

By 2001, I had less acres with a mole problem than in 1966, because some land has been sold and rented ground given up. Occasionally I would miss a year from mole catching, but of course it does make it worse the following year. This has not been a problem as I could soon catch all the moles with a 75% catching rate.

In 2006, I started to use a hammer on the T-handle to compact the ground harder. I also found that by compacting the ground on some fen type soils, the ground went a lot lower than the main run and the trap was set at this lower level. I soon realised that this was going to be the norm on all my future trap settings. Mole catching was so easy that I now expect to catch a mole every time the trap goes off. This is great as I now only have 5 traps that I use for mole catching.

 In 2010, I did not start to catch moles until March. I like the weather to be reasonably dry if I am going to start walking around fields to set traps. I soon realised that when compacting the ground, the soil was so soft on all types of soils where the moles were working that the T-handle was going well below the bottom of the mole run and the soil was being squashed upwards. I then had to remove soil to make it wide enough to set a trap at this lower level. I will then do more compacting before I finally set the trap. This method was only used previously on some fen type soils but because of the snow and the wet conditions over winter, the soil was very soft and spongy that it could not be compacted without removing it from the bottom of the mole run. This was a great success.

The main outcome of all this mole catching is this website. I had first thought that I would like to make a website on mole catching in 2006, after finding the records that I made in 1966/67 on the numbers of moles caught. I also had never seen any sensible instructions on mole catching and I always felt sorry for people buying traps that I knew were useless. On thinking about making a website, I could see it was not going to be easy. I knew that I would have to go into a lot more detail than just showing how mole traps are set, because of the useless traps that had been and are still being sold.

In March 2009, I finally decided that if I was going to make a website, I needed to start to take pictures on setting a mole trap. I used a tripod to take some of the pictures. This was quite difficult, the ground was wet and  I was having to set the camera with a time delay and get back to show how to compact the mole run with a T-handle and club hammer. The biggest problem was having dirty gloves in preparing to set the trap and trying to operate the camera at the same time.

This website started in April 2009 and after about two months I found it on page 11 when I entered "mole catching" in Google and by November 2009, it was on the first page.

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Webpage designed and produced by
John Finnemore, Walcote Farm, Warwickshire.

 www.walcotefarm.co.uk