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.
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.
More information about carbon building in the soil using grazing techniques can be found at
Read Katie's review of Cows Save The Planet and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth