Mouldwarps And Mould-Hills
Tony Serjeant, Nature Correspondent
This week’s article is prompted by a throw-away comment made a few weeks ago in my earshot to the effect that there are more molehills this year than for many years.
I do not even remember who made this remark, but the idea burrowed into my head and it was not long before I too fancied there were more molehills about than I had ever seen previously.
Everywhere I looked there seemed to be fresh heaps like an outbreak of brown acne on the green face of the land. Although the animal itself is rarely seen, it is difficult to miss the evidence of their subterranean presence.
Despite their elusiveness, there are more English dialect words for the Mole than for practically any other native wild animal. In the West Midlands, Moles are called ‘heunts’ or ‘oonts’, in the West Country they are ‘wants’ and many folks know them as ‘mouldiwarps’ or variants of this word derived from the old Norse meaning ‘earth thrower’. Here in Yorkshire it is ‘mowdiwarps’ or ‘mouldwarps’ that cause ‘mould-hills’ (molehills).
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There is no doubt they are an agricultural pest, but there is no consensus on just how important a one. Certainly, they are not welcome in arable fields or land growing root crops, but they can also do damage in pasture by bringing less fertile sub-soil to the surface and by killing off patches of grass. The earth from molehills can contaminate hay or silage, so farmers often chain-harrow meadows to flatten mounds.
I expect that the recent flooding will have knocked the mole population back somewhat, but it may not have been as catastrophic to them as we may think. With their paddle-like front paws, Moles are good swimmers and have been found by mole-catchers swimming through tunnels flooded from floor to roof.
There is evidence that Moles anticipate likely flooding and move to areas that are less prone to waterlogging when their senses tell them there is danger.
I am grateful to the British Molecatchers website (https://www.britishmolecatchers.co.uk/about-moles/) for the following fascinating facts about the industriousness of Moles:
Moles can move 540 times their own body weight of earth and tunnel up to 200 metres per day;
Typically, they work in patterns of 4-hour shift cycles: 4 hours working: 4 hours sleeping; all day every day
Earthworms form the core of their diet and they must consume half their own body weight of prey per day to survive.
The last point makes me think that where there are molehills there must be a good population of earthworms.
Could molehills be indicators of healthy soil conditions?
Send your thoughts on this, on whether there are more or fewer molehills or other local names to firstname.lastname@example.org
Mouldwarps And Mould-Hills, 5th April 2019, 15:43 PM