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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Claire Ratinon

I’m proud of my wildlife-friendly patch, but I really don’t dig this mole

I realised my beans had been pushing their roots into a mole tunnel.
I realised my beans had been pushing their roots into a mole tunnel. Photograph: Blickwinkel/Alamy

When I marked out where my vegetable beds would go, following a sketch I’d scribbled out the night before, I knew we’d need a fence to stop the deer and badgers from barging in to graze on the crops. It’s not a big plot, so it was straightforward enough to surround it with chicken wire held in place by stakes hammered into the ground, the edges pinned down to keep rabbits from burrowing underneath.

It’s done its job well over the past few seasons, as the deer pass us by and I’ve only seen one rabbit in the garden. Yet late last spring, a mammal I wasn’t prepared for arrived in the patch. Suddenly mounds of finely tilled earth started appearing – in the chicken coop and on the grass (which I am too untidy a gardener to care much about) but then in the veg patch too. A ravenous local mole had moved in.

At first I took it as a compliment. All the effort I’ve put into the no-dig beds – religiously mulching them with compost – has transformed our solidly clay soil into a thriving ecosystem, which of course would attract a mole who’s out hunting for dinner.

But as I watched my summer crops struggle, I came to realise quite how destructive one mole (and yes, they’re very territorial, solitary adults, so it was probably the work of just one creature) could be.

I discovered its subterranean passages as they caved in under the flow from my watering can. I finally understood why my courgette and squash plants remained unusually small and my beans hadn’t found their feet – they’d been pushing their roots into the earth only to find the empty space of a mole tunnel below. Even now, a year on, I’m still uncovering the extent of the damage, so some of this year’s crops are failing to thrive too.

Given that one of my main objectives is for my growing space to be as friendly to wildlife as reasonably possible, I did not feel inclined to take up a neighbour’s suggestion of calling the “mole man” (which is as ominous as it sounds), so I experimented with ways of encouraging it to relocate.

Moles are sensitive creatures, so suggested home remedies include scattering cayenne pepper or coffee grounds to repel them. I focused on their dislike of loud sounds and vibrations, so committed to a regular dance routine of stamping around my veg beds while banging a rake on the ground. While I looked ridiculous, this ritual – alongside some solar-powered mole deterrents that emit an irritating buzz into the ground – appears to have encouraged our mole to move on.

Now I just need to find the remaining underground tunnels and fill them before the next round of crops is ready for planting.

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