Moles - A Permaculture Perspective

Katie Shepherd
Tuesday, 14th January 2014

Plagues by moles in the garden or on the farm? Katie Shepherd turns the problems brought by moles into solutions with applying some ecosystem thinking and a few, simple strategies.

At this time of year here in the Yorkshire Dales, (when there isn't deep snow on the ground!), much upland farm land has plenty of evidence of mole activity (i.e. lots of mole hills!), and this year in particular, the moles are in abundance.

For many farmers (and gardeners) moles are seen as a pest. The 'hills' of soil inhibit precious grass growth for grazing and in addition if molehills are present on meadowland, then there is a risk that soil will be present in the hay crop, meaning that animals the following winter could be exposed to soil born disease such as Listeria. There is also evidence that there is a certain amount of neighborly rivalry between local farms about who is controlling their moles well (i.e. working the hardest!). Moles on the agricultural land in this area are killed either by trapping, shooting, or poison.

Katie's mixed flock of sheep

As I gradually took over the management of the land where I farm from the Elders in the last few years, 'mole control' has been part of my role. There had always been a great sense of pride that moles (along with thistles in the summer!) were controlled to the highest standard on this farm. Which has left me with a bit of a dilemma.

Using permaculture ethics and principles to explore this more closely, I have also come up with the following:

* Moles living on the land are a sign that there is a good earthworm population there too

* Activity by moles can help to de-compact the soil

* Killing moles alters a natural balance. Ecological theory would suggest that killing them would actually mean that numbers will increase as weaker moles (who would not usually survive) could move into that space left, and thrive (breed)

* Killing moles with poison (which is permitted with a license) would also mean the unnecessary death of any animal that then fed off the dead mole

* The soil from molehills can be used in the garden for pots, raised beds etc. Moles are excellent soil sievers

After a great deal of reflection over the opposing arguments above, I have devised a plan for how to manage the mole 'issue' on the land I farm.

I trap moles on the meadowland only. (I'm actually fairly rubbish at setting the traps properly to be honest), any moles I do trap are given to the several families of buzzards around the farm. One of my cats is quite good at catching moles, and has caught several on the meadowland near the house.

All molehills are raked out to a thin layer over the grass. The grass then starts to grow through a couple of weeks later. From an aesthetic point of view it looks better quickly.

I rotate the places where I feed my sheep hay over the winter months. This also utilises some of the theories relating to soil carbon building and controlled grazing techniques (I feed the hay in a small area of land, next to, but not on top of raked out molehills. The sheep then trample some of the uneaten hay into the raked soil and further down to the grass, as well as produce manure on that specific site). Another benefit of this is that the sheep are moved to a different place to feed each day and therefore minimalise parasite ingestion, and infection (in this wet weather predominantly feet related) spread.

The raking helps to keep me fit over the winter months. It counteracts some of the stress put on my spine with some of the other heavy winter work. I use the time to observe the land more.

Further Resources

More information about carbon building in the soil using grazing techniques can be found at

www.regenag.co.uk

www.savoryinstitute.com

Read Katie's review of Cows Save The Planet and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth

Hill Farming - a permaculture perspective

Farming for the Future - despite what the neighbours think

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kerst ster |
January 14, 2014 - 4:36pm

i love the fact that you use your time raking to observe the land more, but the fact that it makes things look better is really very hard to understand for me. i think that the "Tidiness syndrome" got us in a whole lot of ecological trouble, and finding excuses to do work caused
by the tidiness syndrome is not going to fix that i think.

Clearing molehills makes the field look good, my god, i can sort of understand that in a small backyard, but on a farm?!

is it realy true that the "damage" molehills do is bigger than the advantages of a healthy earthworm population?

And what if weeds start to grow on molehills, making the grassmonoculture more diverse? Don't sheep like that a lot?!

Where I live there is a Catle farming project aimed at making grassland more diverse... the results over the last couple of years have been, a dicline in veterynary cost attrackting more farmers to the project!

Lynn Shore |
January 15, 2014 - 7:41pm

It's great to read about moles from a permaculture perspective. For some time now I've been using molehills from Amsterdam city parks to replenish plant pots and treepits. In general, a quick harvest from one molehill provides me with one 5 litre bag of soil. "Harvesting" them helps to tidy the appearance of the lawned park areas that I find them on and I'm able to make great potting mixtures for free. By scooping molehill soil from different areas of the park I can make soil that is perfect for my needs because some molehills are very sandy, others are humus rich and so on. I'm very greatful to these little fellows whenever I'm in need of soil and I encourage other geurrilla gardeners and treepit enhancers to embrace urban moles!

Debbie |
January 16, 2014 - 4:29pm

Happy to use molehills as compost. Happy to not take any action against them other than mole bulbs / grains etc to "encourage" them to move elsewhere. Happy for them to gorge themselves into a stupor on my plentiful earthworms.

BUT - I am left with a complex of tunnels under my garden and sinking lawns and beds. Often they give way when you tread on them unknowingly and I fear falls and sprains may follow.

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