North East farmers' concern at increased mole activity

The warm dry weather has led to an outbreak of mole activity on farmland, gardens, sports fields and cemeteries

Pest controller Rory Brotherton is warning of a mole epidemic
Pest controller Rory Brotherton is warning of a mole epidemic

An outbreak in mole activity is creating concerns for farmers and gardeners as the early spring weather seems set to continue.

Twelve months ago, the region suffered minus temperatures and snow conditions that helped delay the onset of spring following the wettest first three calendar months in over 100 years.

This year, the region has enjoyed dry, warm temperatures, and this has helped increase mole activity according to Rory Brotherton, a licensed pest controller, who runs his own business, Environmental Pest Management.

“The region had wet weather in January and into early February but as the land has dried out, moles have been increasingly active,” he said.

“In some cases, fields have been severely pock-marked with mole hills within a couple of weeks. The explosion of mole hills is already affecting grass land and arable crops.”

A series of damp inclement weather in recent years has also helped the explosion of moles on farmland, gardens, school playing fields and golf courses, as well as cemeteries.

Farmers have also noticed a large increase in mole populations since the strychnine ban was introduced. The lethal method was much less labour-intensive but since the ban, mole-catchers had to revert back to traditional trapping as the most effective method of eradication.

Moles feed on worms that in hot summer weather bury deeper down into the soil to remain in a cooler environment.

When the weather is cooler and damp, as has recently been the case, the moles have remained near the surface, and produce an abundance of mole hills as a result of their activity.

Deep-down mole activity on lawns, although not necessarily resulting in on the surface mole hills, can severely undermine the lawn, by a series of tunnels or mole runs.

One estimate considers a single mole can move the human equivalent of four tonnes per hour and create up to 100ft of tunnels in 24 hours.

In recent years, livestock farmers have also reported concerns during spring and early season silage cutting as a result of increased mole activity.

Silage grounds, traditionally rolled in April and May by use of a tractor and heavy roller in order to force down surface stones, and also break down and flatten surface soil structure, has proved challenging.

The grassland, when subsequently cut by large agricultural field mowers, has resulted in heavily soiled silage and a resulting decline in silage quality.

Furthermore, soiled silage can lead to an outbreak of Listeriosis, a soil borne bacteria that can cause a bacterial brain infection in cattle, sheep and goats, as a result of consuming the infected feed.

Mole infestation in horse paddocks is also proving a concern, said Mr Brotherton, from Longhorseley, near Morpeth.

He added: “Equestrian paddocks are also being undermined much earlier this year. Horses and ponies can incur severe injury owing to near the surface tunnels collapsing under the weight of the animal.

“The undermining of paddocks can result in severe trauma for the owner, rider and horse.”

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